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  

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?