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Our “Best of the Blogs” section includes thoughtful insights on school leadership being shared through blogs maintained by AASA members. This representative sampling of five bloggers, through an RSS feed, will change periodically to showcase other member blogs, so check back regularly. If you are aware of others, contact

  • A Good Surprise

    Notes from the Superintendent|10/5/2015

    People close to me know that I do NOT like surprises. This probably makes me a boring, predictable person, but it is good for business. An exception was made over the weekend when my wife and I were surprised by a visit home from our oldest son. We then attended our youngest son's college cross country meet for the first time AND we surprised HIM by bringing his dog. Surprises are not all bad I guess!

    Student is Generous: West Genesee Middle School eighth grader, Erin Byrne, surprised the community with her generosity. She took $200 she raised collecting cans and bottles this summer and bought 60 tickets for the annual Joseph's House car raffle. As Erin wasn't technically old enough to win the prize, she wrote her last name down on the tickets and her family agreed that Erin would decide what to do with any winnings.

    She has been volunteering at Joseph's House with her mother every Thursday, and if she won they had decided to donate the car to Joseph's House. We congratulate Erin's parents for raising such a selfless child, and Erin herself for representing herself, her family, and our community in such a positive way.

    Weekend Events: The weather held out for the Tournament of Bands and the Sports Boosters golf tournament. Both are significant fund raisers for the fine arts and athletic departments respectfully, but more importantly both events bring the community together for our students. Thank you to all of the volunteers and organizers!

    Students Learn about Government Participation: This week I will be visiting with all Participation in Government classes. Participation in Government is a course taken by seniors (my own senior class in 1989 was the first class to have to take "P.I.G") that helps to give students a last and hopefully lasting framework about the status of current issues in government.

    I have spoken to Participation in Government classes since 2000, and each year I have spoken about school government, issues facing students, and have then taken questions from students about any topic. I would not pass up these experiences for anything and you might imagine that I have heard a variety of things over the years!

    Community Coalition Addressing Drugs: You might remember from last year that we started a community coalition to help educate community members about the dangers of drug use, addiction, and the resources that are available. Our coalition has members from school, local, state, and federal government, business, law enforcement, nearly every clinical organization, parents, and students.

    Right now the focus of the coalition is on heroin abuse and addiction. While other topics are dominating the headlines, our community (and every other) is being impacted by heroin. Like many drugs, heroin has no typical user and overdoses are becoming more commonplace. Our emergency officials have saved many people from overdoses with a drug called Narcan, but that is not the long term solution.

    My fear as a coalition member is that heroin will make its way into our schools (recent statistics show heroin use to be most prevalent in people ages 18-26). Heroin is cheaper and easier to get than alcohol or marijuana and addiction comes quickly.

    We are preparing a larger community forum to be held in January 2016 with some of our members who are experts in the field. There will also be smaller "Town Hall" type meetings leading up to the larger forum.

    Thanks for reading and for your support. Have a great week!


  • Innovation: What Matters Most?

    Amy Griffin's Blog|10/4/2015

    This is how some 6th graders spend their lunchtime!
    I was fortunate to attend EdLeader21 2015 where I was able to learn from experts in 21st Century learning and assessment as well as network with educators across the nation. Tony Wagner began with the Keynote challenging us to create innovative schools and districts. He reminds us that we are living in a radically different world and that in an Innovative Economy, employers do not want employees that can regurgitate content, but are more interested in what employees can do-- those who can deal with complex problems and both lead and follow. He urges educators to move from:
    • Individual achievement to collaboration--  Innovation is a team sport. Isolation is the enemy of improvement and innovation.
    • Compartmentalized knowledge-- Innovation happens outside of boundaries. Students must be able to solve multidisciplinary problems.
    • Consumption of knowledge to creativity and production of knowledge.
    • Thinking failure, making mistakes, is a bad thing-- Innovation comes from trial and error. He urges us to rethink grading practices.
    • Cultivating extrinsic motivation to more intrinsic motivation where students are producing work worth doing.
    Tony Wagner concluded that content mattersskills matter more; and motivation matters most! It was an extremely powerful message followed by a movie screening of the film, Most Likely to Succeed.


    CuCPS Highlights:

    Events for the Week:

    • Wednesday
      • CMS Data Meetings
      • 7:00 Strategic Plan Advisory Committee Meeting
    • Thursday
      • CHS Data Meetings
    CuCPS will be closed for students on Monday, October 12, 2105, for a Professional Development Day for CuCPS faculty and staff.
    CuCPS teacher Myrna Barr pictured at the Longwood University STEM Summit with Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius.

  • Teaching is not like other professions

    The Superintendent's Chair|10/2/2015

    In most jobs you do not receive an email like this. The subject line said:

    Head lice information

    Most jobs do not require you to think about or check for head lice.

    But teaching is not like other professions.

    Teaching, like most jobs, requires technical skill. Teaching, like most jobs, has a set of observable and measurable skills that a person needs to be successful. A teacher needs to know and understand their subject. More importantly, a teacher needs to know how to communicate their knowledge of the subject to an eight and twelve and fifteen year-old who may or may not be interested in learning that subject. There are very specific techniques and approaches that can and do help you teach.

    But teaching also requires another set of skills. Teaching requires that a person be willing to look for head lice, break up a fight, listen to a break-up story, stop a bloody nose, and tell students that they are dancing too close to each other. Teaching requires that a person notice when a student is "off" because her dog died or because his girlfriend just dumped him or because he was just cut from a team that he had wanted all of his fourteen years to be a part of. Teaching requires that you understand heartache and heart break.

    Teaching requires the very best a person has to offer. Students can spot a person who doesn't really care, who is not all that interested in them, and who is unwillingly to do the dirty work that is required to motivate and encourage and challenge a five or nine or thirteen or eighteen year-old.

    Teaching is not like other professions.

    Yet our society communicates to teachers that they don't matter, that anyone could do the job, that it is really not that hard. We look for ways to put students in front of computers believing, wrongly, that learning is about knowledge when really it is about relationships.

    For those who claim anyone can be a teacher, I'll call you next time we need to check for head lice.   

  • Race for Respect!

    Notes from the Superintendent|9/28/2015

    Race for Respect Means Fall is Here: I am beginning to wonder if all of this nice fall weather is payback for the awful winter we had. Each day seems to be nicer than the last! Certainly the "real" fall will arrive, but it was nice to have a slice of summer greet us for the 17th Annual Race for Respect that was held at the high school yesterday. It was a nice turnout, and I would like to thank all of the event organizers for making the race successful once again. To view a short video of the event, just click here.

    Next Weekend Will be Busy: I am hopeful that the weather will hold out at least one more weekend. The largest fundraisers for both the Marching Band and the Athletics programs are going to be held next weekend.

    The Tournament of Bands will be held next Saturday, October 3 followed by the Sports Boosters Annual Golf Tournament on Sunday, October 4. We usually "sell out" the turf field for the Tournament of Bands. I look forward to visiting with people from both near and far on Saturday and then playing golf for a good cause with a couple of Board of Education members on Sunday.

    Closing Out an Era of the East Hill Playground:  As some of you might remember, part of the Capital Project involves replacing the current wooden castle playground at East Hill Elementary School and replacing it with a more modern and compliant playground called a Playscape. The current playground was built by the hands of many volunteers in the late 1980's under the direction of head volunteers Jane Goot and Mary Anne Clark. Unfortunately, the playground has reached the end of its usable life.

    On October 20, at 6:00 p.m. in the East Hill Gymnasium, we will be holding a closing ceremony for the existing playground. We will also get a glimpse of the new Playscape (and basketball court and walking path) that was voted on by current East Hill students.

    Part of the ceremony will be to recognize anyone who might have worked on installing the playground. We are also going to dig up and open a time capsule that was placed in the ground when the current playground was officially opened in 1989. There will be a new time capsule placed once we open the new playground.

    All are welcome to attend and if you cannot, we will be filming the ceremony and also streaming it on Periscope, the popular social media application.

    I have been specifically asked why the current playground needs to be replaced. The short list would include that the current playground is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the wood is treated with a popular chemical from the 1980's that is now banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, the wood is beginning to unsafely sliver, and the wood is bending causing nails and screws to be exposed, along with bees nests. The playground has been recommended to be closed by a third party inspector twice in the past five years.

    We have been able to keep it open during the Capital Project because it is slated for replacement. We have, however, had several significant portions of the playground closed for some time.

    People are asking if they can purchase or take parts of the existing playground (or the whole thing) before it is demolished in early November. Good question. We are awaiting a legal opinion on that topic due to the chemicals in the treated wood.  If we can, we will accept bids and the highest bidders will be able to come one weekend day (to be determined) to remove their winnings.

    Celebrating a Veteran Teacher: Many of you have been asking about services or memorials for our veteran teacher, Jo Ann Macaluso, who passed away recently. A memorial mass is planned at Holy Family Church for this Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

    I think we are slated for a couple more nice days of weather, so I hope you can enjoy them. Thank you for your support and have a great week!


  • Amazing Students!

    Amy Griffin's Blog|9/27/2015

    Our students never cease to amaze me.  From placing in the Eastern Region FFA Agriscience Fair, becoming the 2015 Conference 42 Golf Champion and Conference MVP, to raising money for the Lonesome Dove Equestrian Center-- our students continue to show how coming from a small community and school division doesn't stop them from being the best among their peers and contributing to causes beyond school walls.
    In preparation for developing the six year strategic plan, I spoke with students last week from all three schools about the future of CuCPS. We discussed how they best learn; how they best show what they know; and what additional resources they would like to see for CuCPS. Student overwhelmingly reported that they learn and show what they know best through projects, presentations, and hands-on learning. As far as enhanced resources, they want to see more playground equipment at CCES, laptops versus tablets at CHS, a boys volleyball team, and VHSL tennis teams (just to name a few of their suggestions).
    As always, speaking with our students and reflecting on their accomplishments reminds me of my purpose and why I do what I do. 
    CuCPS Highlights:
    • Welcome Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Dwayne Tigs as the new Assistant Instructor for the CHS JROTC.
    • Jordan Newman, an 8th grade student at Cumberland Middle School, competed in the Eastern Region FFA Agriscience Fair in Springfield, Massachusetts. Jordan's research project titled "Whose Lambs Grew the Most" had previously placed first at the Virginia State FFA convention in the Animal Science division. Jordan placed 4th in the competition earning him a Silver award. Jordan plans to continue his research project next year. This was his first year as a member of the newly re-established Cumberland FFA. He will be competing in the State Fair of Virginia with his market lambs.

    Events for the Week:

    • Monday
      • CCES Data Meetings
    • Tuesday
      • Career Interest Workshop (6:30 pizza; 7:00 Workshop)
    • Wednesday
    • Thursday
      • Senior Parent Night (6:00 p.m.)
    • Friday
      • Walk for Education

  • Not All News is Bad News

    Notes from the Superintendent|9/22/2015

    Good News: Pictured with me is senior Christian Holcomb. Christian is also a lifeguard who received his training and certification from Mrs. Carrie Butler, one of our Physical Education teachers. One day recently he was with his mom at a local restaurant and noticed a mother who was becoming frantic because her baby was choking on food.

    The baby had been choking long enough that he had stopped crying and was beginning to change color. Christian told the mom to hand the baby to him. He turned the baby over, stopped him from choking, and removed the piece of food from his mouth. He handed the baby back to the mother as emergency crews arrived. He and his friends continued on with their own meal. The family he helped did not speak good English, and Christian actually never spoke to them again.

    What makes the story more remarkable is that Christian did not tell me about what he did.  The story came from others. When I met with him he asked if we really had to feature him because he did not want it to look like he was seeking attention. I featured Christian because he deserves it. In a world of negativity, stories like this one continue to give us hope that there are still good things happening around us. If you see Christian, please give him a pat on the back; not because he wants it, because he DESERVES it.

    In the Media: West Genesee is featured in the media A LOT! Some people think that we are attention hounds and cannot go a week without seeing ourselves in the paper or on television. That cannot be further from the truth.

    I have been teaching graduate courses in educational administration since 2006. For the leadership courses, I always talk about what it takes to be a successful leader. The recipe for success that I have always used and believe in is to establish trust within the organization and the community and then work each and every day to keep that trust. Part of trust building is always telling the truth, always being transparent, having and communicating a clear vision, celebrating success, learning from shortcomings, and ALWAYS being genuine. Sounds easy right? If you want to call yourself a leader, it should be.

    I have been very fortunate that both Districts I have led have been very successful. The downside of success sometimes is that people are looking for those cracks in the armor. The media (who I respect and work with very happily), cover what viewers are going to watch or read. Our transparency causes the media to pick up on stories, both positive and negative, at a higher rate than others. I do not have a problem with that because I know if a community member sees a positive story or a negative story about our District, they know there is nothing else that we are hiding from them.

    The result is a community that helps us celebrate the successes that they hear about, and they understand that while a situation might be challenging, we have control of it and will be okay. They can go on with their lives. There are no rumors, no "wondering when/if a story will break". You would not believe the energy I can then spend on the more important things.

    This formula has worked, does work, and will continue to work.

    As we finish up open houses this week, I again want to thank you for your support. Our attendance thus far by parents has been over the top, and we absolutely would not want it any other way!

    Enjoy the week.


  • Zero miles to empty

    The Superintendent's Chair|9/21/2015

    Zero miles to empty!

    That's what my car said. But I kept on driving.

    With a message like that one would think that my car stopped immediately - out of gas! Surprisingly, I traveled 23 more miles before I pulled into a gas station to fill up my tank.

    Data - even seemingly unambiguous, hard data - has wiggle room. There is always a difference between what is "observed" and what is "true."

    In my car there is a difference between what I observed - zero miles to empty - and what was true - I was able to go at least 23 miles more.

    The same principle holds true in standardized assessment. The score a child receives on a standardized test is an "observed" score. It is not the "true" score. Test theory holds that one can never know the true score. What we can do is try and create assessments that can get us close to a true score.

    But in the end we have to be content with the understanding that any assessment gives us an observed score that might be higher or lower than a person's true ability.

    That is why I am so dismayed that the Michigan legislature is considering House Bill (HB) 4822 which would require mandatory retention in 3rd grade for students who do not score at the 3rd grade level on the Michigan state assessment. Specifically it states the following:

    If a pupil enrolled in grade 3 in a school district or public school academy is rated one full grade level or more behind in reading, as determined by the department based on the reading portion of the grade 3 state English language arts assessment the Board of the school district of Board of Directors of the public school academy in which the pupil is enrolled shall ensure that the pupil is not enrolled in grade 4 until . . .

    This sounds good in theory. We should not promote students until they demonstrate that they have learned. But no assessment gives us a "true" score. Assessments give us an "observed" score. The observed score gives us one indication of a student's ability. But it certainly and clearly does not give us a completely accurate indication of a student's ability.

    We asked parents in our district if mandatory retention was a good idea. These parents are not testing experts. They probably could not win a debate that was discussing the merits of testing theory. But they were overwhelmingly dubious of a policy that relied on mandatory retention.

    Teachers and principals, those who work with students each and every day, know and understand that students develop differently. Artificially imposing a mandatory score to move on from 3rd grade is bad policy.

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