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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.

  • The world waits for teachers

    The Superintendent's Chair|1/28/2015

    It was 1986.

    It was an ordinary Tuesday.

    And then it wasn't.

    I was student teaching in Lubbock, Texas, at Monterey High School. I was nervous. I had been in this classroom for exactly two weeks.

    The day before, Monday, January 27th, I had been given the reins to the class. I was now responsible (more or less) for the education of 123 students.

    I was 29 years old. I had come to teaching after working for the Texas Department of Human Resources as a social worker responsible for placing children in foster care. I had seen more than my fair share of dysfunctional families. I had seen parents unable and unwilling to care for their children. I had seen children who loved their parents even though those parents did not seem to love those children back.

    Finally, I'd had enough. I decided I wanted to work with children on the front end of their problems, to help give them a fighting chance.

    I returned to college to earn my teaching certification and now I was almost finished.

    I spent hours planning lessons, thinking about how to engage my students, help them see that what we did in the classroom was relevant to their lives.

    On my second day of being the teacher, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

    In this Jan. 28, 1986 file photo, the space shuttle

    A teacher - Christa McAuliffe - was on board. Watching her lift off was preparation for a writing assignment: What impact will a teacher have on the space program?

    Suddenly, 27 faces looked at me.

    What happened?

    Why?

    Will they be OK?

    How could this happen?

    Why do bad things happen?

    My students needed me. Not necessarily as their teacher. Not necessarily as their friend.

    My English class and my English curriculum suddenly were not very important. Instead, what was important was being there for the students in that classroom.

    I learned a valuable lesson that day. Teachers do more than teach the curriculum. To make a difference teachers must serve as guides and mentors and as a steady voice. Teachers help students make sense of the world.

    Making sense of the world means that I will give my students the tools they need to be successful. If I am supposed to help them learn English I have a responsibility to help them learn English.

    But I can't teach them English and forget about the world that they live in. English, math, chemistry, history - every subject must find a connection to the world that my students experience beyond the walls of my classroom.

    Sometimes that world explodes into the classroom - like it did on January 28, 1986. At those times the world is hard to ignore.

    Most of the time though the world waits for teachers to make connections, to help our students understand why and how school matters.

    And teachers do. Every single day!




  • Is There a Future in School Sports?

    Culture of Yes|1/28/2015

    This is the first of two posts on the subject of school athletics.  I was planning to start with a series of reasons why today’s students may be the final generation to see sports in school as we know them but instead I am saving that for my next post.  For this first post I […]

  • Student Engagement

    Amy Griffin's Blog|1/25/2015

     
     
    During the middle school Academic Review visit, I observed an engaging lesson that brought non-fiction science together with the creation of poetry through accessing information, collaboration, creativity, student voice and choice, and communication. A true example of teaching the required content (the English SOL standards and essential knowledge) through 21st Century learning.  Each student began with finding five words in a science magazine that he/she would like to use in a class poem. After listing all the words chosen, students began working as a class and in pairs to develop a poem using the words.  As the class began "word smithing" each thought and line, a poem began to appear. Students were engaged with interesting and current event topics such as Ebola, robofish, etc. Below are final products from three different classes:
     
     
     
    I was impressed to see every student engaged in many high-yield strategies. Kudos goes out to Miss Cannon who took the risk with this lesson which was truly student-centered with student choice and voice leading the way!

     

    CuCPS Highlights:

    • Congratulations to KaTyra Brown, 7th grader, for winning the Cumberland Division Spelling Bee. She will represent Cumberland at the regional spelling bee. Pictures can be found at:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.930807443599084.1073742156.243780738968428&type=1.
    • CCES Safe Routes Grant information:  http://saferoutesinfo.org/about-us/newsroom/national-center-safe-routes-school-and-schwinn’s-helmets-heads-program-announce-20
    • CHS students attend VSUP Leadership Conference:  http://www.cucps.k12.va.us/index.php/component/k2/item/201-chs-students-attend-vsup-leadership-conference
    • Congratulations to the following Juniors for being selected to attend Boys & Girls State: Danielle Dowdy, Erica Bryant, Nicole Riddle, Ahkiya Allen (Girls State); Justin Crawford, Sean Stinnett (Boys State). This is the highest number of attendees to be chosen by the local American Legion for Cumberland High School.
    • The nail art club invited 5th grade girls to have their nails painted. The girls used different techniques that they had learned such as sponging, dotting, and striping.  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.929564390390056.1073742155.243780738968428&type=1
    • The Duke Boys played at Central. The Varsity Boys won 51-40 while the JV team lost by 11 points. 
    • Congratulations as both the JV and Varsity teams defeated the Lady Chargers in James River District action. 
    • The Duke Boys played at Rappahannock High School. The Varsity lost in a close game while the JV team won. B
    • The Varsity Lady Dukes defeated the Rappahannock Lady Eagles while our JV Girls played well in a tough loss.
    • The Middle School and High School Wrestling Teams had a dual match at Fork Union yesterday. Davidrick Brooks and Keavon Perkins both earned wins. 
    • Parents and students: the library has partnered with the schools to provide drop-off boxes for library materials. These boxes are located in the main office of each school and are marked with a sign. Students (and teachers) may return public library books to these boxes during the school week. Library staff will come once per week to empty the boxes.We hope that this new service will help school children return books before they owe late fees. Many thanks to Mr. Kinney's carpentry classes for building the boxes.

    Events for the Week:  Happy Virginia School Principal Appreciation Week!
    • Monday
      • VSBA Capital Conference
      • 7:00  School Board Budget Work Session
    • Tuesday
      • 3:00  CMS Data Meeting
    • Thursday
      • 3:30  CCES Data Meeting
     
     

  • 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|1/19/2015

    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



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