Archive for December, 2007

Happy Holidays

December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope that everyone has time with friends and family this week. Talk to you next year.

Investing Limited Resources – Questions

December 21, 2007

By definition, a public institution such as public schools has limited resources.  That’s especially true in Colorado given our caps on how much revenue government can collect and spend.

That raises the question about how should we direct those dollars in an equitable manner.  Do at-risk students deserve more dollars?  Or, should high achieving students be given extra funding to accelerate their learning?  Or, should every student receive the exact same amount of financial support?  Where we will get the most return on our investment as a community and society?  Or does ROI matter in education?

Inherent in every funding and policy decision are questions such as these.  These are the questions I will ponder over the next few weeks.

Creating Focus Schools

December 20, 2007

There are some threshholds that school districts must meet to be considered up to date – not to mention exemplary.  One of those threshholds is that a district must have a portfolio of focus schools – e.g. IB, Montessori, Dual-Language, Math &Science.

This drives some educators nuts.  A school does need to have a highly focused curriculum to provide the best education possible to students.  But, many educators, believe this can be done in a traditional school setting.  And, it can.

But, the reality is that people have different preference for education philosophies and practices.  They want to choose the approach that they believe works best for their child.  Fort Collins, Boulder and many other districts provide such options.  The increasing demand for charter schools reflects this desire.

St. Vrain must respond.  If we want to continue to attract primary employers – such as Xilinx or Amgen – to our communities, we must have a school district that is attractive to potential employees.

A portfolio of focus schools is part of the basic package in a modern school district.

One World Youth Project

December 19, 2007

Marnie Steele, a Trail Ridge Middle School science teacher, is one of those teachers are likely to remember even when they’re older.  Marnie is enthusiastic, fun and passionate about her subject.  She goes out of her way and puts in extra hours to create learning opportunities for her students.  Her husban Jamie helps.

One program she has brought to Trail Ridge is the One World Youth Project.  It provides opportunities for students to do hands on environmental work and interact with students from other parts of the world.

I appreciate Marnie’s enthusiasm and dedication.

An Idea to Improve Board Meetings

December 18, 2007

I shared with my fellow board members an idea to improve board meetings.  My understanding is my idea has been common practice in the past.

At our December 12 board meeting, most of the audience came to be part of the discussion to name Mead High School.  It was indeed exciting.  This agenda item was later on our schedule.  People had to wait 90 minutes before we came to this topic.  Once we finished our business on Mead High School, the room cleared out.

When we have an agenda item that is of clear interest to most of the people who attend our board meetings, we should move these items to the front of the list.  It seems the best way to be gracious to our constituents.

Daily Routines and Positive Learning Environments

December 17, 2007

Productive social norms are an essential part of a quality learning environment.  Or, put another way, cliques and intolerance can impede learning.

At our December 12, board meeting we heard a report on programs being implemented to foster positive behavior and positive learning environments in schools.

My children are influenced in a good way by these programs.  The positive behavior program at Central Elementary is call Fire Hawk Five.  The program goes by other names at other schools.  My daughter has learned to use the Peace Place to work out disputes.

These are good programs.  But, daily routines may be more important.

I took part in a youth summit that brought together more than 100 St. Vrain high school students.  We assigned students to tables at random to make sure they would congregate with friends.  The students said that they were talking with people from different "groups" – I can’t remember all the labels they used – often for the first time.  The students were surprised and pleased to learn how much they had in common with their peers from other "groups."

During the conversation, we asked the high schoolers for ideas on how to promote a positive environment in their schools.  They did not mention programs such as those we heard about at our last board meeting.  Instead, they focused on daily routines.  The students’ ideas to build tolerance included: Assign our locker partners don’t let us choose our own and make us sit by different people at lunch.  The students said this would force us to talk to, get to know and perhaps even become friends with people outside their own cliques – similar to what was happening at the youth summit.

The students added that they would complain if such ideas were implemented.  But, these types of practices would force them to interact with peers outside of cliques and, perhaps, build more tolerance in schools.

I’ve noticed how cliques begin to form even at the elementary grades when daily routines are changed.  For a variety of sound reasons, Central Elementary has students go to recess immediately before lunch.  In the past it was reverse, lunch immediately before recess.  Other schools have adopted this practice, too.

When I went to lunch with my kids in the past, I noticed the teachers had a lot of influence over how the kids lined up because they were coming to the cafeteria directly from the classroom.  My children seldom were in line next to the friends they played with at recess.  But, they laughed and talked with their classmates just the same.

Now, I notice that when my children come to the cafeteria from the playground they are in line with their playground buddies.  It tends to be a similar group of kids each time.  Girls and boys are separated as they enter the lunch room.  The unintended consequence is that the kids are sitting in what amount to cliques.  There is less interaction with peers with whom they are less familiar and comfortable.

I urge principals, teachers and staff to consider how small daily routines can affect civility in the school house.

Benevolence and Trust

December 16, 2007

We held a board work session on Monday, December 10.  One of our agenda items was how we will work together as a board.  As part of our discussion, we discussed factors that influence trust.  Here are elements of trust discussed in a book Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools by Megan Tschannen-Moran.

Reliability – Do I do what I say I’ll do?  Am I committed, dedicated and consistent?

Predictability – Will I act/decide the same way in similar situations? Can people predict what I’ll do in similar situations?

Benevolence – Do I express appreciation and support people?  Do I demonstrate good will?  Do I guard confidences?

Honesty – Do I tell the truth?  Do I keep promises and honor agreement?  Do I avoid manipulating others?  Am I true to myself?

Accountability – Do I take responsibility for what I do?

Openness – Do I share important information?  Do I share decision making and power?

Competence – Do I work hard and meet standards? Do I handle difficult situations and deal with conflict appropriately?

Most of these are familiar.  Rod Schmidt, a fellow board member from Mead, noted that Benevolence is less commonly associated with trust.  Benevolence is something worth considering not just during the holiday seasons but throughout the year.  As a friend of mine likes to say, "You can get more done with sugar than vinegar."

Thank Yous

December 15, 2007

There are many people who are part of our schools that deserve thank yous.  Many go unnoticed.  I would like to say thanks to a few people who touched my family at Central Elementary this week.

Jake is the night custodian.  Every time I see him he offers cheerful conversation.  We like to talk about KU basketball (and football this year) and Notre Dame football (not so much this year).  I look forward to evening meetings at the school in hopes of running into Jake.

Jim Hecocks is the principal.  He’s brought a professional energy to the school.  He spent much of his time this Saturday checking on 5th grade students around town who were fund raising.

Donna Salemink is a teacher and Central parent who is giving extra time to coach Odyssey of the Mind.  I’m thrilled that she will be my daughter’s coach.

Veronica Sommers is another parent who gives much to the school.  She brings us the geography bee and many other enrichment programs.

The parents, teachers and staff who are part of the school improvement task force.  I’m excited about the future possibilities for the school.

The 5th Grade teachers who organized an amazing authors day at the school on Friday.

Mrs. Morgan, my sons teacher, who has had to deal with death in her family but still musters the energy to have kids excited about learning.

There are many others at Central who are an important part of our life.  Thanks everyone.

Schedule

December 15, 2007

Here’s a brief review of my activities in December

– Wednesday, December 5 – Observe Westview Middle School Leadership Team

– Monday, December 10 – Board Work Session

– Tuesday, December 11 – Secondary Principals Breakfast

– Wednesday, December 12 – Latino Education Task Force and Board Meeting

– Thursday, December 13 – Longmont Chamber of  Commerce Event

– Friday, December 14 – Bob Smith and I met with Mayor Roger Lange (Bob and I are liaisons to the Longmont City Council)

– Wednesday, December 19 – Board Work Session (I will be absent)

Here’s what’s on the calendar so far for January

– Monday, January 7 – Meet with Longmont Latino Leaders

– Tuesday, January 8 – Accountability Committee Meeting

– Wednesday, January 9 – Latino Education Committee and Board Meeting

– Tuesday, January 15 – K12 Online Class and Rocky Mountain Elementary Tamales & Talk

– Wednesday, January 16 – Board Work Session

– Friday, January 18 – All Day Retreat

– Tuesday, January 22 – Accountability Committee Meeting

– Wednesday, January 23 – Board Meeting

– Thursday, January 24 – Focus on Longmont Education Task Force

– Wednesday, January 30 – Joint Session with Longmont City Council

Colorado Association of School Boards

December 4, 2007

I am energized by what’s possible for our children. Our children can look forward to wonderfully exciting, stimulating and challenging educational experiences. But, we’ve got to change – more than we have already. We can build on the lessons of the past and present that we’re learning in St. Vrain and from others. We can build on the dedication and passion of our families, educators and community. But small steps are not sufficient. If we are going to deliver on the promise that awaits our children we must be willing to innovate. With innovation comes risk. That’s uncomfortable but that’s what we must be willing to do. At the CASB (Colorado Association of School Boards) Convention in Colorado Springs, we heard about innovations, possibilities and hard, emotional work.

Six St. Vrain school board members were able to attend the convention along with a few administrators and a fantastic group of St. Vrain students who should make our communities proud. The conference ran from Thursday through Sunday. I was able to attend on Friday and Saturday. If you interested, here is the conference agenda. I attended the following general sessions:

Teaching and Leading the Millennials: A New Education Story – David Warlick, owner, The Landmark Project (thought provoking)

Equipping Students with 21st Century Skills – Kenneth Kay, president, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (some overlap from previous day)

And, I attended the following breakout sessions:

A 21st Century Curriculum for all Students – Mike Miles, superintendent, Harrison #2 (useful)

Closing Schools to Open Opportunities – Englewood Schools (useful)

Student Based Budget – Poudre (Fort Collins and surrounding communities) School District (useful)

Supporting Your Decision-Making with Good Data – Glenn McClain, superintendent, Platte Valley Schools & Jan Rose Petro, Colorado Department of Education (did not meet my needs)

I returned home Saturday night and I did not attend sessions on Sunday.

In addition to formal sessions we had the opportunity to meet with a great group of St. Vrain students. St. Vrain board members also attended receptions/dinner sponsored by: Bernard, Lyons, Gaddis & Kahn (this law firm represents the school district, the reception honored Dan Bernard); George K. Baum & Co., Adolfson & Peterson Construction, H&L Architecture, RLH Engineering, Inc., Strategies Resources West, Inc.; and George K. Baum & Co. (this was a dinner).

I have written several posts based on my experiences at and reflections on the CASB convention. I cranked these out pretty fast so I apologize in advance for typos, etc. It doesn’t appear that the formatting turned out quite like I’d hoped on a few posts. There is more for me to learn. Here’s what you’ll find.

David Warlick Keynote

“CSAPs aren’t meaningful to students”

Closing Schools to Open Opportunities

21st Century Skills

We Must Innovate

Student Based Budgeting

Student Centric Education

New Geography

Building Community