Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The ABC’s of the first day of school

The first day of school is the second-best day or the year. The last day of school is the best day of the year. You can’t have one without the other, and they are both filled with excitement of completely different kinds. What memories and thoughts does the first day call to mind?  I will share my ABC’s of the first day. What are yours?

A is for A New Day in Kansas Schools, thanks to a new vision from KSDE.
B is for Brown, as in Miss Brown, the most beautiful Kindergarten teacher in Colby Kansas in 1963.
C is for school Clothes. Exciting for most kids, but a worry for kids from impoverished homes.
D is for Difference. Some kids are reading on the first day of Kindergarten, while others struggle with their letters, but all kids come with different gifts.
E is for Expectations. Miss Brown expected us to be ready to learn. Kindergarten teachers today expect kids to know their alphabet. Expectations have increased in the last 50 years!
F is for Fear. For many kids, especially ones who are starting in a new school with no friends, the first day is scary.
G is for Graham crackers and goldfish. Miss Brown gave us graham crackers every day, and we had a goldfish pond right in our classroom.
H is for High School Senior. Remember that unique feeling on the first day when you knew this was the last year?
Iis for I can’t believe how much I loved Miss Brown!
Jis for Jaime Escalante. Every teacher should watch “Stand and Deliver” before starting a new school year.
Kis for Kind, the first half of Kindergarten. Is there anyone kinder than a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school?
L is for Learning. It’s fixin’ to start happening’ again.
Mis for Moon Shot. Is your school ready for the Kansas State Board of Education challenge?
Nis for Naps. We don’t do those anymore in Kindergarten, but there will be some educators who will need one at the end of that first day!
Ois for one hundred twenty-eight Crayon box. Yes, my sister had one. Sixteen was my limit, and the dog usually ended up eating a couple leaving me with 13 or 14.
P is for Post-Secondary Success. Do you know your district’s rate?
Q is for Quiz. Teachers! Not on the first day!
Ris for Run, as in don’t run with scissors. A hard lesson learned by one of my Kindergarten classmates. Girl!  Miss Brown told you not to!
S is for School Boards. Without you, there is no first day!
T is for Teachers. Ditto.
U is for Uncle. What kind of uncle would hide a dirty diaper in his niece’s backpack on the first day of high school?
Vis for Victory. Teams are all practiced, and every team is undefeated!
Wis for work. Learning is hard work, but so much fun.
Xis for Xylophone. I got nothing.
Yis for You. As always, it is up to you.
Z is for Zeal. Let’s approach this new year with some of a big dose!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Begin With the End in Mind

Anyone who has ever done curriculum work with Emporia’s George Abel knows that you have to start with where you want to end up.  As George likes to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?”  Nobody ever went wrong taking advice from George (unless it was on remodeling!)  Let’s use his formula to address the biggest problem now faced by Governor Brownback and the Legislature.

August 15 Students are walking into buildings for the first day of school.  That is where I want to be, and I am guessing about 80,000 school employees, 900,000 parents, and truth be told, most of the 450,00 returning students themselves want to be there too.  So if one were mapping curriculum, the map goes backwards from there.  What are important standards and benchmarks along the way?

August 14 First day of practice for fall activities.

 August 25 Out of order of importance, but technically a key date because statute says budgets must be turned in to the county by that date in order for a district to levy a tax and collect the revenue necessary to fund school for the year. 

August 11 looms because the notice of budget hearing must be published a minimum of ten days prior to the budget hearing. (I used business days to be safe.)  Of course, this assumes the board would hold the budget hearing the same day the budget must be turned in to the county.

August 4 Let’s say your local paper needs a week notice to print the publication.  Your board must approve the notice by Aug 4 at a very minimum.

August 1 Enrollment for most districts takes place at least two weeks prior to school starting.

July 1-July 31 Staff Payroll and key operational expenses such as utilities and insurance must be paid.  Building maintenance and upkeep, curriculum and instructional planning and development, new staff orientation, staffing, all must be completed.  Summer school, summer lunches, summer activity camps are all scheduled.

July 1 June state aid payments made to districts

June 30 Deadline for the legislature to complete work on a constitutional school finance plan.

 May 24. Today  Memorial Day is right around the corner.  That leaves about thirty days for presentation of a constitutional school funding plan to the court.  In the best of all possible worlds, that plan will be presented and the plaintiffs will agree that it meets constitutional muster, much like last year.  In the worst of all possible worlds, we don’t really know what happens.

Today around the state, 286 school boards are faced with the question “How do we plan for this?” There are 286 different stories and not one of them is the same.  Declining enrollment districts are wondering if they will lose significant funding.  Our state’s second largest district is trying to plan for opening a 5-6A high school.  Students will be there on August 17th, ready or not!  Increasing enrollment districts wonder if the can hire new teachers to reduce class sizes for as many as 200-300 additional students. 286 unique places with as many unique "ends in mind."

Those big questions- the “end in mind, " create hundreds of logistical questions: textbooks, computers, classroom space, interview processes, refurbishing- everything from pencils and paraprofessionals to principals and paint and who gets paid. Those plans need to be made now, for implementation in June and, gulp, July.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Childhood Trauma and Learning

Most everyone has suffered some kind of childhood difficulty. For me, most of it was self-induced. What was it for you? Not making a team, a class bully, middle school in general, or as KASB's Mark Tallman describes, (quoting Niles from “Frazier”) the general difficulties of being “a small-boned child with superior language skills?” While these kinds of experiences can be traumatic, the concept of childhood trauma has been the subject of recent attention and research and the new information is shocking. Marcia Weseman, former middle school principal in the Blue Valley school district was at KASB recently to share some of her knowledge about the subject and it is an important one for school leaders to understand.  

I learned the importance of defining one’s terms in high school novice debate class. For our purposes, childhood trauma goes beyond those listed above. The Centers for Disease Control website has excellent information on Childhood Trauma and what can be far-reaching, long-term impacts on those affected. A good summary description can be found at http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean  

Researchers use the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey to determine an ACE Score. These experiences range from whether you were “sworn at, insulted, put down, or humiliated” at home to whether you had a parent in prison. What they have found is that children with higher ACE scores tend to experience more long-range physical and mental health issues ranging from obesity to cancer. In the short term, children are more likely to have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior, which translates into getting in trouble at school.  

I often hear people my age say things like, “if I got in trouble in school, I got it worse at home, “and “if we could just paddle kids…” The research is showing that children who suffer trauma at home need exactly the opposite at school. Getting angry and yelling at a kid who has been yelled at in his home for years is not an effective strategy. Paddling a kid who has been beaten and abused at home will not yield positive results. Giving a kid whose mom just went to prison a zero for not handing in an assignment will not improve their desire to learn.  

Some folks will resist this idea, saying spare the rod and spoil the child. We can conduct esoteric debates about society’s ills and kids lacking responsibility all day long. I once received a hateful email from a parent at another school because I wouldn’t let a wrestling team travel during a blizzard. He accused me of effeminizing the wrestlers. Those arguments have been going on for centuries.  

Local school boards are the place where esoteric and high-minded debates meet ten-year-old homeless kids. We cannot afford to debate social ills. The students we have are the best we are going to get right now. Schools and districts need to look at their policies and procedures and consider how to build resiliency in students, how to help them manage their turbulent lives so they can be productive citizens.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Help Wanted: Great Opportunity to Shape the Future. Long Hours. No Pay.

Positions Available! *

USD XYZ is a full-service education organization focused on preparing all children to be successful citizens. We are known for some of the best results in the country and are proud of our student’s success in academics, social and emotional growth, the arts, and careers.

Our district is focused on success for all students.
We believe in providing the best education possible to insure the success of all students.

The Position: We’re looking for a school board member with good judgement, focus, good listening skills and a sense of goodwill for our children and community. We need a team-player who knows how to work together with others to set and monitor goals for our future. Applicants should be altruistic advocates who are respectful, brave, collaborative, inquisitive, and have time to commit to the children of our community.

We offer long hours and no pay.
We also offer the sense of accomplishment that comes with helping shape our community and country’s future.

The Location: USD XYZ schools are located right here in your community. This is a great place to live because of our great schools and sense of community.

Why Should You Apply?
Opportunity to work with other elected officials with similar goals.
Opportunity to work with professional staff who are committed to our children.
Opportunity for advancement to school board officer.
Opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of children.

Deadline for Application: June 1, 2017. Position starts in January 2018.
For more information, contact your local school district office.

*Every two years, about half (1,000) of the school board positions in Kansas are open to elections.  KASB research indicates that between 250 and 500 incumbents choose not to run every election cycle.  There are jobs open.  Do you have what it takes to serve?


Friday, April 14, 2017

The NFL Draft is Right Around the Corner...

My wife is a wonderful person who tolerates most all of my idiosyncrasies. One thing she doesn’t tolerate well is my penchant for watching the NFL Draft in all its 30 hours of glory.Its got drama, its got action, its got intrigue. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, that whole deal. Tune in April 27 at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central! What's not to love?

As a Chief’s fan, it is always about next year, and the combine and the draft feed my false hope beginning in February. Part of the drama is the NFL Combine. An event that brings in all of the great college players and runs them through a series of tests to determine if they will be successful in the NFL. They run, lift, jump, drill, interview, and take intelligence tests. Players are poked and prodded by doctors and trainers, leaving nothing to chance. Except of course, there is still a lot left to chance.

Who can forget Matt Jones? Wait, Matt who? Star of the 2005 combine, Jones was fast, strong, and could jump over the goalpost. He earned the nickname “Freak” for his scores. Picked 21st because of his test results, he washed out of the league after three years.

Then there is this guy who was almost laughed out of the draft in 2000. In fact, check out this video and draw your own conclusions: https://youtu.be/kxx_u67eUSA The Patriots wasted the 199th pick on him and what has he done since?

What can we learn from this little football lesson? Well, one thing is that test scores are inputs. Inputs can predict outcomes, but usually not with 100% certainty. Football fans have learned that combine scores are not the best measures of success in the NFL. The best measure of success in the NFL is, well, performance in the NFL.

This week, the Kansas Commissioner (of education, not football) shared preliminary results of a method for measuring student success that is not based upon test scores. The commissioner and state board want school districts to look at what students are doing one and two years after leaving high school. Are they performing in college or technical schools? Have they earned licenses or certificates that qualify them for entry to the workforce?

Another way of saying this could be, do they have the social/emotional skills, a plan for moving forward, a quality K-12 experience (starting with Kindergarten readiness and ending with high school graduation) that enables them to attend and complete a post-secondary experience?

This is a leap for some. How can we influence what students do after they leave our systems? Back to sports for an example- have you ever heard a college coach tout the success of the program’s players in the big leagues? For that matter, who hasn’t bragged about the percentage of their students that go on to post-secondary institutions after graduation. If we want to take credit for success, we need to take responsibility as well.

For football players, the measure of success is a mustard-colored hall of fame jacket. For our students, the measure of success is whether they have lived a good life. Neither of those outcomes is measurable in advance, but the state board is taking a step in the right direction by asking us to look out two years after our students leave us, instead of relying on a test.