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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 magazine@aasa.org.

  • Warning Labels

    The Buzz from the Hornet's Nest|1/24/2015

    Public school districts throughout New York recently were confronted by another state regulation that requires additional staffing, program development, and professional training. Like many of its legislated predecessors, it is a well-intentioned and educationally appropriate service for schools to implement. I am not identifying it because the issue isn’t the program, but rather the blunt speed and force of the process of its introduction and implementation. Most importantly, it represents yet another unfunded state mandate delivered at a time when schools continue to contend with fiscal constraints that have seen staff layoffs, and program reductions over the last five years.

    On Thursday afternoon our regional group of superintendents met with the Deputy Commissioner of Education and had the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. Much of the discussion focused on this new requirement. After overcoming some initial reticence, I expressed my summative opinion on the many perspectives rendered on the subject by my colleagues by drawing an analogy to a non-educational concept.

    I reminded those present of the frequent late night television advertisements promoting various drug medicines. Nearly half of the commercial itself is devoted to the purpose and value of the drug as a solution to what ails people, while the other half of the ad is used to warn people of the many potential side-effects of the medicine. For example, nausea, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, thoughts of suicide and several other possible problems. The medical term is iatrogenic, according to MedicineNet.com, iatrogenic means “Due to the activity of a physician or therapy. For example, an iatrogenic illness is an illness that is caused by a medication or physician.” In more simplistic, non-medical terms, it refers to a solution to one issue or problem producing another, different issue or problem, like the medicine addressing your high cholesterol causing joint pain, blistering skin, loss of appetite, darkened urine…  An example outside of medicine would be the development of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, which used the Nile River to produce hydroelectric power and meet an energy need for millions of people. However, the Aswan Dam prevented the river from flooding, which resulted in the loss of nutrients within the floodwaters that usually fertilized the farm-fields that flanked the river and benefitted from the annual floods. That prompted a significant decrease in agricultural produce and a consequent rise in hunger. So, the solution to one problem inadvertently created another problem.

    I concluded my remark by suggesting that the State Education Department should list the potential side-effects of every program or requirement they introduce as a mandate to public schools. I went further and echoed the concerns shared by my colleagues as a suitable identification of such a list and proceeded to voice a mock example based on the piece of legislation we had been examining at the meeting. With the luxury of time since the meeting I will offer a written proposal of more substance and merit than the one spontaneously generated and verbalized at the meeting.

    This New York State Department of Education has now mandated the _______________ program. It is designed to advance instructional opportunities and leverage future success for all learners serviced by the new program (although there are no funds available from the state to implement the program and train staff members).

    Potential side-effects may include:

    1.     The need for additional staff at a time of sustained fiscal retrenchment that may likely cause a commensurate staff reduction elsewhere in the district;

    2.     The subsequent lack of funding will certainly alienate other stakeholders and further threaten already vulnerable, and valuable, non-mandated instructional programs;

    3.     This strangulation of non-mandated programs (see above) will further diminish the role and impact of the local control exercised by the community through policies developed by their elected representatives on the school board by leaving the school with little more than a state based curriculum;

    4.     The need for specifically certified staff at a time when there are already insufficient numbers of available teachers in the certification area for the present program loads and number of learners;

    5.     The stress on the supply and demand imbalance mentioned above will prompt competitive and  inflated market sensitive salaries which will cause additional financial problems for schools;

    6.     An expanded erosion of credibility for the State Department of Education through an even wider rift separating the ideals of the state agency and the realities of the public schools;

    7.     Finally, it should be noted that a possible side-effect facing school superintendents is a heightened level of anxiety, increased nausea, and a sense of political impotence that may lead to early retirement and the loss of many experienced school district leaders across New York.
     
    All legislation should be accompanied by warning labels.

  • Inside Stories

    Culture of Yes|1/22/2015

    As regular readers know, I blog in West Vancouver as part of a rich community of teachers and administrators who are regularly sharing insights into their school, their profession and their work.  The blogs, from teachers and administrators, give a wonderful window into school life.  They are as diverse and varied as the topics which […]

  • Dangerous myths and distortions: D's get degrees

    The Superintendent's Chair|1/21/2015

    When my oldest son went off to college a Senior in his fraternity, who was majoring in engineering, relayed this bit of wisdom: D's get degrees.


    While technically true, I was not comforted by the thought of driving over a bridge or riding in an elevator or flying in a plane that had been designed, constructed, and built by an engineer who earned D's throughout her/his college career. I would rather trust my life to the engineer who really knew and understood the concepts.

    A wise man (Doug Reeves) once said: A "D" is a coward's "F." The student failed but you didn't have enough guts to tell him/her.

    Grades, while they seem so clear, really don't tell us very much. I could earn an "A" in biology and still have failed a section or a unit over the course of a semester. Was that section or unit important? The grade of "A" would suggest that it was not.

    But what if it was?

    Students need to know what they know and what they don't know. Traditional grades are averages. And averages distort. 

    As educators we have an obligation to accurately report what our students know and don't know.

    Traditional grades don't do that.

  • Student Leaders

    Amy Griffin's Blog|1/20/2015

    CCES Superintedent Student Panel
     
    It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that my favorite part of last week was listening to our students.  From student presentations at the January School Board Meeting to meeting with members of the Superintendent Student Panels from each school, I had the honor of learning from our students and providing them a voice. Our students taught me about climate change and Mars exploration. I heard about student experiences at a National Medical Congress and VSUP Leadership Conference. 
     
    My time spent with students on the Superintendent Student Panels was enlightening and comical. Students from all three schools voiced that things were going well. The middle school students had a lengthy discussion about the new vending machine in the cafeteria (apparently the machine taunts them since they can't use it) and high school students were concerned that a 2-hour delay wasn't truly a 2-hour delay. I explained that the 2-hour delay was the easiest way that I knew to inform students of what time they would be picked up by bus; however, would think about announcing the actual time school starts at all three schools on several media outlets such as Facebook, the alert system, the website, etc. At all three schools, we had good discussions about what students were learning and what we could do to improve.
     
    Lastly, I enjoyed observing our elementary students during a Focus School visit. During my first classroom visit, several students asked me if I would be their reading partner in the Reading Workstation. Of course I couldn't disappoint a child, so I put down my observation tool and listened to them proudly read. One student even assigned me a part in the story. In another classroom, students were writing stories. They chased me down before I left the classroom to read me what they had written. Kindergarten students in the third classroom impressed me greatly with their reading and writing skills.  
     
    Moments such as these, make me so proud and remind me why I chose and remain in public education. A special thanks goes to our CuCPS faculty and staff who make learning and these experiences/opportunities possible for our students.
     
    Gov. School Information Meeting
     
    Special Announcement:
     
    The Snow Make Up Day from last Wednesday, January 14, 2015, will be March 19, 2015, originally scheduled as a Student-Led/Parent-Teacher Conference Day. As of right now, we will keep Monday, February 16, 2015, as a Professional Development Day (no school for students).
     
     
    CuCPS Highlights:
    • 4H Mentoring Program coming to CMS:  January is national mentoring month and mentoring is one thing that can help Cumberland’s children fight the odds, say community leaders. “I believe in the power of mentoring,” says Yvonne Earvin. “I believe you can make a difference in a young persons life if you spend time with them.” She is the coordinator for the 4-H Mentoring program, which is slated to start next month at Cumberland Middle School thanks to a $20,000 grant. Get all the details in today’s paper or online at www.farmvilleherald.com.
    • The CHS Forensics Team attended the annual Waynesboro High School Forensics Invitational on Saturday, January 10th. The results for the competition are as follows:
      • 3rd Place Alexa Massey (Impromptu)
      • 4th Place Brittny Price (Extemporaneous)
      • 4th Place Shayna Swanson (Prose)
      • 4th Place Cheyenne Johnson (Poetry)
      • 5th Place Kyrra-Mae Hodges (Poetry)
      • 5th Place Katey Hougland /Demory Williamson (Humorous Duo)
      • 6th Place Holly Tillett (Extemporaneous)
      • 6th Place Kayla Paras (Poetry)
    • The CHS Wrestling Team had a tri-meet against Amelia H.S. and Northumerland H.S. Cumberland swept the meet by defeating Region 1A East foe Northumberland HS, 54 to 30, and getting a district win against Amelia HS, 48 to 18. Davidrick Brooks, John Ryan Bapties, Keavon Perkins, Trevon Foster and 7th grader Blake Barker all earned pins last night. The Dukes next match is a Middle School and High School Dual at Fork Union Military Academy on January 21st at 4:30 p.m. Great job, Duke Wrestlers!
    • CHS Varsity basketball defeated Bluestone HS, 58-54, the Dukes were down 12 points in the 4th quarter and fought their way back for a big JRD win!

    The hens in our Ag program have been busy laying eggs!

     

    Events for the Week:

    • Tuesday
      • After School Program Begins
    • Wednesday
      • CMS Academic Review Visit
    • Thursday
      • 10:00 Division Spelling Bee
      • 1:00 Administrative Council Meeting
      • 4:00 Division Calendar Committee Meeting

  • On the importance of grades

    The Superintendent's Chair|1/14/2015

    Do grades reflect your actual ability or knowledge?

    I earned a 2.4 grade in my Organic Chemistry class at the University of Washington. (The UW did not give letter grades while I was there - only numerical equivalents. Don't ask me why.) That, in truth, probably overstated my actual knowledge in the course.

    Grades, of course, signify your ability and knowledge. In a manner of speaking, they represent how smart you are.

    But do they?

    I would humbly suggest that the grade I earned in Organic Chemistry in 1977 probably was a poor reflection of my actual knowledge.

    A recent article in The Atlantic suggests grades reveal little about achievement. The article focuses on grade inflation and notes that while grades and GPAs have increased over time measures of actual achievement and knowledge have remained relatively static.

    Which leads to the question of why we pursue grades with such vigor.

    Next week students at Novi High School will have their midterm exams. Study sessions are and will be organized to prep students for these exams. Teachers will engage in class reviews. Students will gather at coffee shops and in the library to help each other prepare.

    I am not here to suggest that these efforts are not important.

    I am here to ask another question: Of what importance are grades?

    We must be able to help students, and by extension parents, community members, colleges, employers, and others with an interest in knowing exactly how smart our students are, know where they stand. Do they know the material is a relatively important question.

    But my question is: Do grades actually help us answer that question?

  • Back in Action!

    Amy Griffin's Blog|1/12/2015

     
    It was wonderful to see all the bright, shiny, and ready-to-learn students and staff as they returned back to school last week. If weather doesn't get in the way, we have a busy week ahead- a School Board meeting, Board of Supervisors meeting, Superintendent Student Panel meetings, a CCES Focus School visit, and the Division Spelling Bee. My hope is that we get full days of school in this week; however, I am somewhat depressed as I see the weather forecast for the week and the Freezing Rain Advisory scroll across the screen as I write. Why does the frozen participation always have to happen during the morning commute and always- west of Richmond???  Don't be surprised if we try a 3-hour delay if needed and appropriate this season.  Time will tell.
     

    CuCPS Highlights:

    • Congratulations to Justin Caban for being the Herff Jones Believe In You Award winner for the class of 2015!
    • Congratulations to Mrs. Bryant for having her project on DonorChoose.com funded!
    • Cumberland Middle School and Cumberland High School Wrestling Teams faced Appomattox in a hotly contested dual meet. CHS defeated Appomattox HS for the 1st time since the program was reinstated 8 years ago. The Dukes were down by 6 points with 2 matches remaining. Coleman Phillips got a huge pin to tie the score at 30 a piece. Gustabo Lopez ended the dual with a big come from behind win to clinch a team victory with a final score of 33 to 30. Kajhaun Trent, Blake Barker, AJ Wingo, Nick Yoder, Sean Stinnett, Coleman Phillips and Gustabo Lopez earned wins last night. The CHS Dukes next match is at home against Amelia H.S. and Northumerland H.S. tomorrow. Wrestling starts at 4p.m. in the old gym. Great job, Duke Wrestlers!
    • The JV and Varsity teams defeated Wm. Campbell. The JV team won, 34-22 while the Varsity beat the Lady Generals, 51-37. 
    • The Cumberland County Public Schools Foundation, Inc. AND Centra Southside Community Hospital are sponsoring a 5K Run for Scholarships. The event will start at the River Road Entrance of the High Bridge Trail State Park and offers an out and back run across the legendary High Bridge.  Proceeds will go to scholarships for graduates of the Cumberland County High School. Participants who register before the March 1 deadline will receive a High Bridge t-shirt. Click here for complete information:  http://www.cucps.k12.va.us/images/Featured-Articles-Pics/Jan15/High%20Bridge%20Flyer%202015.pdf
    Events for the Week:
    • Monday
      • 7:00 School Board Meeting
    • Tuesday
      • CCES Focus School Visit
      • 3:00 CHS SLT and Division Data Meeting
      • 7:00 Board of Supervisors Meeting
    • Wednesday
      • 9:00  CCES Supt. Student Panel Meeting
      • 10:00 CMS Supt. Student Panel Meeting
      • 1:00 CHS Supt. Student Panel Meeting
    • Thursday
      • 10:00 Division Spelling Bee
    CuCPS will be closed on Monday, January 19, 2015, for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday
     

  • Have Your Kids Early in the Year

    Culture of Yes|1/12/2015

    In my conversations around education, I often hear “Teachers think X”, or “All parents want us to do X”, or “No student will be happy about X”.  I very often follow-up with a question to determine the sample size of this observation. More often than not it is a sample size of one. The individual teacher, parent, student (and other), are […]



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