Friday, February 24, 2012

Pinkberry Supports Community

The last few years have been rough.  Our school district has made a lot of really difficult decisions to keep from running a huge deficit.  In a few short years class size has gone up, almost 300 teaching positions were eliminated, elementary and middle school instrumental music programs were cut, middle school sports were cut and the elementary gifted and talented program no longer exists.  These cuts hit the community hard.  These programs are the "extra" or the "fat" that many felt needed to be cut to save the school budget.  These programs are not specifically required in the state Basic Education Plan (BEP) and were often referred to as "nice to have" programs.  The superintendent and the school committee were charged with making these difficult cuts as a result of a court ordered performance audit.  In the end these cuts have saved the district and the superintendent is hoping to bring many of them back in the upcoming years.

As a response to these difficult cuts a grassroots parent advocacy group was formed.  They call themselves BASICS (Benefiting All Students In Cranston Schools) and were started by a few moms who decided to do a bake sale to raise money to save music programs in the school.  In a short time they have created quite a following with hundreds of followers on Facebook, an executive board which meets regularly, numerous fundraising events, media coverage and the creation of an after school music enrichment program for elementary children.  The members of the group attend school committee meetings and speak passionately on a number of issues.

Unfortunately, over time support for BASICS began to wane, enthusiasm decreased and parents became complacent with the state of education in Cranston.  When the economy and budgets are so bad, people become indifferent.  The BASICS organization had difficulty raising the money needed to subsidize the after school music program  and it was uncertain if would exist past the current session.  Just when it seemed like it couldn't get much worse, in rides the Pinkberry frozen yogurt chain.  A new business in a competitive location decides to do the unthinkable. On a Thursday over February vacation they pledge to donate 100% of their profits to BASICS.  A shot of enthusiasm ran through the community.  It was promoted by every social media and traditional media outlet that exists.  Then, like a blessing from above, on a beautiful spring like day in February the line outside Pinkberry formed.  Everyone came out to support this worthy cause.  City councilors, school committee members, the mayor, parents and children lined the street outside the store.  Local kids played instruments and the mayor took a turn scooping yogurt.  I was there at 8:00 pm and the line was going strong.  We waited 30 minutes for our turn yet the staff at Pinkberry, which was getting slammed for 5-6 hours straight, was pleasant and let my children try every flavor before we placed our order.  The line was served past 10:00 pm when they were due to close.  The BASICS organizers stayed until closing and thanked every single group that came through for supporting the music program for the kids.  They raised over $7000 in one day.  Amazing!

A few final thoughts... 1) Thank you Pinkberry for supporting the community and the music program for the kids.  In this economy, businesses just don't donate 100% of anything to anybody.  Businesses are just trying to stay alive. 2) The yogurt was great and affordable and I would encourage anyone who has not gone to Pinkberry to give it a try.  They deserve the business after what they did for our community. 3) The community really came together on this one.  It was so nice to see so many people come out to support a great cause. 4) Kudos to BASICS for promoting this event so efficiently and not giving up even when times were tough.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King is remembered for all he did to fight for freedom and equal rights. He is remembered for civil disobedience, civil rights and racial equality. Forty years later we sometimes forget how important that work was to all of us. In a school like Hope Highlands the majority of the students are white and come from mid to high social economic classes. Students in this school often do not know much about racial equality or civil rights.

Many come from intact homes and live in an environment where you can get what you need, when you need it. It may seem like the work of MLK is not important to a population like this, but I believe that it may be more important here than in many other schools where students still face the challenges that MLK faced 40 years ago. Our students need to be better prepared for society and the challenges that come with living as a minority or the responsibility that comes with being in the majority. I'll be honest, I haven't put much thought into this topic until I realized a few days ago that I had a day out of school. I stop and think about why we have the day out and wonder if our children really get it. As teachers and parents we have to take every opportunity to talk about the mistakes of the past, to make sure they don't happen again. We must also understand why we celebrate our accomplishments. Here are a few pieces of information to review as you think about the Monday holiday:  

January 15, l929 Martin Luther King Jr. is born.
September, 1935 Martin Luther King begins school at the all-black Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta.
February, l948 Martin Luther King is ordained as a Baptist minister.
December 1, l955 Mrs. Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama.
January, 1957 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is founded. Dr. King is chosen president. January, l960 The King family moves to Atlanta, where Martin Luther King becomes co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr.
December, l964 Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

The famous "I Have A Dream Speech"

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ten Education Terms That Should be Banned in 2012

I live in a world where education terminology is thrown around so quickly, that it is easy to get lost in the jargon.  Sometimes parents look at teachers like they are speaking a different language.  I find that I am often trying to explain terms in "plain language" so parents know what is being said.  Some Education Terms just need to be banned all together.  They have either lost their meaning, are overused, confuse people or I just don't like them.  I don't disagree with meaning behind these terms, I just think we could do better without them.

  1. Highly Qualified Teacher: According to NCLB, a teacher who has obtained full state teacher certification or has passed the state teacher licensing examination and holds a license to teach in the state.  News Flash:  They are all Highly Qualified.  If they did meet this criteria they would not be teaching.  
  2. Inclusion: The practice of placing students with disabilities in regular classrooms. As far as I can see all regular education rooms are or should be inclusion.  There are so many conditions and disabilities that every room should be an Inclusion classroom. 
  3. NCLB (No Child Left Behind): Signed into law by President Bush in 2002, No Child Left Behind sets performance guidelines for all schools and also stipulates what must be included in accountability reports to parents. Maybe it is me, do we need a law that says we will not leave children behind?  Isn't our goal not to leave children behind?   If this law went away tomorrow, would educators begin picking which children we would "Leave Behind" and which ones we "Would Not Leave Behind?"  
  4. Whole Language: A teaching method that focuses on reading for meaning in context. It also doesn't teach children how to read.  An interesting concept and strategies any teacher can use, but completely ineffective.
  5. Bullying : Repeated negative behavior that a person uses to take advantage of someone with less power. The problem is many parents call every negative behavior "bullying."  I have no issue addressing any inappropriate behavior but bullying is long term negative behavior that is repeated.  If a child makes a face on a bus once to another student that is probably not bullying.
  6. Scaffolding: An instructional technique in which the teacher breaks a complex task into smaller tasks and supports students as they learn, and then gradually shifts responsibility for learning to the students.  I have no problem with this technique, except no one ever seems to know what it means or how to use it correctly in a sentence.  Sometimes it is a noun and sometimes it is a verb.  You just never know.
  7. Syllabication:  The act of breaking big words up into smaller parts so they can be pronounced and spelled more easily.  A fancy way of sounding out words one part at a time. 
  8. Phonological Awareness: Refers to an individual's awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of spoken words. Basically does the child know his/her letter sounds. 
  9. Pedagogy: The study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of  instruction. So really pedagogy is just teaching. 
  10. Instructional Leadership: Principal's role in setting clear goals, allocating resources to instruction, managing the curriculum, monitoring lesson plans, and evaluating teachers. The instructional leader makes instructional quality the top priority of the school and attempts to bring that vision to realization.  The reason why I added this last one is that every principal wants to be an instructional leader. The problem is that all the regulations limit an principal's opportunity to really lead in this way.  Finally, a principal can be the best instructional leader in the world but poor management or administrative practices will get an instructional leader fired every time.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Teacher Evaluation

This year is the "gradual implementation" year for our new teacher evaluation system. Cranston has joined with a number of communities to use an Innovation Grant to create a comprehensive teacher evaluation system. It has been approved by the RI Department of Education and is a result of three years of hard collaborative work with the AFT.
The new system measures teacher performance with multiple measures. Included are Professional Growth Goals, Student Learning Objectives, formal and informal observations. The teachers and administrators have received hours of professional development. Throughout the process, teachers are involved in their own goal setting and evidence collection. They are measured against a very rigorous rubric based on new teacher evaluation standards. At the end of the year teacher and administrator sit down together to determine a teacher's summative rating, which is based on all the multiple measures. 

The challenge will be how do we observe and evaluate every teacher, every year.  I agree in concept and principle the reasons why are evaluating every teacher.  I think the increase accountability will make everyone elevate the instruction and professional performance.  I personally have 26 teachers to observe and evaluate by myself.  One observation cycle can take 6-10 hours to complete, per teacher.  That is more that 60 days of straight observation from 9-3 with no interruptions, no breaks and no emergencies.

It is a very rigorous process and involves a lot of hard work and reflection. In the end, teachers will have ever opportunity to hone their skills and improve their practice. I am very proud of the work we are doing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Snakes? Oh My!

As building principal I am responsible for a lot of things. Some things I must do every year are fire drills, lock down drills and shelter in place drills. Fire drills have been around since I was a child and everyone remembers them. Since Columbine security and procedures have become ultra important. We all have security cameras in our schools, buzzers at the doors and practice lock downs. A lock down is used for a variety of events. Worst case scenario would be if a Predator enters the building and we need to maintain security by locking down the school and classrooms. A less dire situation might be someone leaving by ambulance and the school is looking to maintain a calm environment and confidentiality. Most lock down drills are uneventful and parents have no need for concern.

Recently I had a lock down at the school. It happened at the busiest time of day. I had students in the cafeteria, students at recess and students coming in from recess. Almost everyone was out of classrooms. So, when the rescue, fire trucks and police arrived it was very difficult to keep the students concealed from the commotion. It was nearly dismissal when the situation was resolved and I decided to send a short note on the school listserv to parents. I typically do not send a note for lock downs or fire drills. There is usually no need for it but this particular situation was different. Since so many students had seen the emergency personel, I felt something had to be communicated to the families. One fear I had was that students would alarm their parents with stories that weren't true. Guess what? The students alarmed their parents with stories that were not true.

My short e-mail note had not calmed any one's fears. In an effort to protect some one's identity, I sent a note that was too short and in the end generated even more concern and questions. Hours later I had 25 new e-mails each one more outlandish than the next. I started responding to individual e-mails and then decided sending a more detailed note to parents, apologizing and explaining what had taken place, was more appropriate. My favorite story was the one about the man who entered the school property and released snakes all around the playground. In this story 15 students were bitten and sent to the hospital by rescue. I was shocked that people actually believed this story and that parents would think that something like that would happen and I would not tell them. There were many stories, too many to repeat. 

The lesson I learned is to make sure to give enough information to calm any concerns or fears right away. I also learned that when people do not know the real story, they will make-up a story. Also, anything they make-up will be crazier that what really happened.