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Thursday, December 5, 2013

PISA scores

There is a lot of media buzz about the most recent PISA scores.  PISA is one of those international tests used to rank different country's education systems.  Most of it negatively impacting the view of public education in the U.S.   Diane Ravitch counters that with a look at the historical trends in US achievement on international tests.  A few of the quotable statement from her blog:

  • "Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile."
  • "The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century."
  • "Does it matter?"
  • "Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse."
  • "Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce."
Check it out, its an eye opening read for citizens worried about the impact of poor performance on our future.  http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/03/my-view-of-the-pisa-scores/

 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Support Common Core

Here's a great article support the Common Core with specific examples of rigorous lessons as they are intended to be presented.  As a teacher I always believed it was far more important to understand conceptually, rather than remember factoids.  Thinking skills include open ended questions being wrestled with, and students experimenting with ways to find an appropriate answer.  If you compare this learning to the exercise of memorizing a single correct response it should not be difficult to see where the value is. This is the power of American Education that can maintain a superior economy through innovation.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Advice for Parents

I ran across this article from our Association of School Boards this week;  3 Ways Parents can Help Teachers, and I find it to be a quick bit of solid advice.  In brief, the three ways are:

  1. Get educated about education.  If you're reading this blog I assume I may be preaching to the choir on this one.  As education changes and our districts change to follow best known practices, its always best for all patrons, especially parents, to be informed of the what, why and how of any change.  Staying in touch with the changes and asking the right questions is very important.  Which leads to #2.
  2. Forget your student experience.  Even if was just a decade ago, leaps and bounds of change are happening due to the rapid development of technology and our understanding of what engages current students best in their learning.  The Teacher Leadership concepts being funded by the State is one good example of that, as is the Common Core, Response to Intervention and grading reform among others.  Besides that, how well you did or didn't do in math at school doesn't really predict your children's success, or lack of, very accurately.
  3. Work with Teachers.  Teachers need you as a partner, support for their work and reinforcing it with your children will make all efforts more effective.  Its also OK to disagree, and to advocate for your student.  Just do it through the right channels so you and your child's teacher can understand each other and your opinions.  
Most importantly though, is to remember, teachers want the same for their students as parents do, future success.  A better life with better opportunities and more happiness along the way comes with successes in school.  

By the way, here's another blogger's list of things to help your students:
  • Make sure your kid goes to bed on time.
  • Read them a bed time story.
  • Talk to them.
  • Ask them about their day.
  • Have books in the house.
  • Read in front of them.
  • Eat healthy meals at regular times.
  • Turn off the t.v., the playstation, the gameboy, the iPad, the phone....
  • Have a conversation.
  • Teach your child to take personal responsibility.
  • Let your kid cut and glue things.
  • Teach them to say please, thank you, and excuse me.
  • Teach your child to cook, so they can follow directions.
  • Tell them not to shout indoors.
  • Don't always give them their way.
  • Say no sometimes. And then stick to it.
  • Count things.
  • Point out shapes and colors.
  • Go to museums, plays, concerts.....
  • Etc., etc., etc.,

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Growing Pains

Anytime someone gets into a new partnership there will always be those times when one side does not think the other is holding up their side of the bargain.  NFV is not immune to that and it appears that Homecoming has brought out one of the bigger issues we need to deal with.  Two issues actually, and both negatively impact the MS students.

First of all, the Thursday Night parade has been in the works for two years.  We've been discussing it with city leaders and trying to make it work in many ways.  I think it has the potential to be a great homecoming tradition embraced by the communities and schools alike.  However, we missed a scheduling conflict between MS sports and parade night.  This is not intentional and with enough foresight and planning will be corrected in future if we continue to have Thursday parades.  At this point, however, we cannot change the scheduled activities.  We hope that many of the MS students will get back in time to see the parade, or at least the pep rally that follows it, but we apologize for missing this conflict in our schedules.

Along with Homecoming comes many, many different traditions that makes each school unique.  We have found that Valley's Homecoming festivities vary quite a bit from North Fayette's traditions.  While we can say the Parade is a "New NFV tradition"  (Isn't it an oxymoron to use new and tradition together?), we have tried to retain a mixture of old and new for both districts.  One of the Valley practices that they wanted to retain was allowing some of the Homecoming fun to be special for HS students and thus restricted to them.  Things like the dress up days.  In its place, Valley has used Red Ribbon Week as a fun and educational event late in October.  In respecting some traditions of each school's past we have retained that practice for this year.

Aside from Homecoming, I've heard some grumbling about how much more NF has done to change over the colors and signage around the school than Valley.  Please be patient, as it is in the works.  Many of the new things at North Fayette, like the scoreboard, banners, and other outdoor signage, were in the planning stages early last spring.  While NF was planning for these changes, Valley was struggling with other issues,  they just got a later start.  As the year goes on you'll see more and more changes in the outward appearance of the school.  Rest assured though, that inside those walls, all students are treated as NFV students, given expanded opportunities to learn and have a strong staff of caring and dedicated educators making their Middle School experience just as special as the High School students.

Dare I say, its only Homecoming?  Let keep our focus on the quality of education and the relationships we are building.  We know some of these issues will be difficult, and we know we can make them better next year.  The power of hindsight is a great thing, with your help and feedback that's what will make NFV better year after year.

Proud to Be NFV!



Friday, September 20, 2013

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It's a mantra I try to live by, and sometimes I think I overdo it.  Too many messages can sometimes desensitize us to the messengers.  Like the boy who cried wolf, if we communicate IMPORTANT  or URGENT messages too frequently we'll get ignored.

However, lack of, or poor communication has been one of the most troubling aspects of our new Whole Grade Sharing.  "When did you communicate that?"  "How were we supposed to know this?"  "Shouldn't that be posted in the . . . (web page, newspaper, announcements, bulletin boards, etc)"  These are the most recurring questions and complaints we've heard thus far this fall.

Many times these comments are due to not knowing where to find information.  We either choose the wrong medium for the message, or the wrong time or sometimes we just don't get it done.  Often we get caught in the past and simply assume what has always been going on is always going to work, and that is not true.   We apologize for those instances and will try to do better.

We did that recently, with a letter out to all parents of elementary age students while trying to respond to dangerous situations at the first football game.  Elementary parents were sent a note asking them to better supervise their younger students at football games.  Its not that rules have changed, or that we are trying to suck the fun right out of a ball game for anyone.  School administrators need to be managers of risk for our school district.  With larger crowds expected at all NFV games this year, it is more important than ever to take the steps necessary to keep everyone safe. When people are injured on our property, we could be held liable and that's why we've communicated these rules.  They've been in the NF elementary handbook for several years:
Elementary Student Conduct – High School Events
Elementary students and their parents are encouraged to attend North Fayette Valley High School events. It is recommended that elementary students be accompanied by an adult. Parents are expected to supervise their student(s) at these events. School standards of behavior apply to all school activities. 
Conduct – Football Games or Outdoor school events
1. No playing “tag,” organized games or football on school grounds before or during the event.
2. Do not hang or sit on the chain link fence around the track.
3. No one except cheerleaders allowed on the track.
4. No students under the bleachers. 
While its not stated, we've always told kids who would not follow these rules that they'll have to sit with their parents. We are concerned for the safety of not just the students but the adults in the crowd as well.  Last week I witnessed several small groups of young students running and weaving through the crowd of adults, even playing their version of a tackle football game within a few yards of the pressbox. That is what brought about this communication.  The desire to be clear and to make sure everyone can enjoy the game safely.

The bottom line is we recognize the importance of good communication and both districts will work towards better communications throughout this initial year of sharing.

Proud to be NFV!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Proud to be . . . NFV!

I just finished my opening day remarks to staff of both North Fayette and Valley Community schools. What a great group, although that wasn’t my first impression.  It was a bit of a reality check. My first impression was WOW, the day is here, what will happen now?  Over 200 employees, covering all the varied tasks we find necessary in the school year, with a broad a range of interests and skills.  How will we get them all focused on what’s best for the students of North Fayette and Valley?  Their summer has been daunting.  Well over half of the teachers have changed classrooms, or buildings, or even districts that they work in.  Approximately 40% of the group was there to get to know their new Superintendent.  Many have different job assignments or additional duties.  Some weren’t here, had retired, moved on or suffered the fate known as a RIF, a reduction in force.   I need to make this group into one team, with a common focus.  The NF Hawk and the Valley Tiger, coming together to make the NFV TigerHawks.

When all were gathered in the cafeteria for breakfast it was great to have such a large and vibrant group assembled for the morning.  Mostly conversation was between co-workers for each district, but some old friends or family members were happily catching up. We opened the program with a pep talk by Kid President, and then broke into small groups for a little get to know you conversation.  It was soon evident that this group was becoming one.  Or maybe they had already made this connection.  After all, the teachers were together twice last spring, many worked on their curriculum together during the summer.  Others had worked on planning committees last winter.  They’ve sat through public hearings and lengthy board meetings together.  Custodians and coaches had been hauling equipment and gear back and forth.  The 11 miles between the districts had definitely become much shorter than it has always seemed.

In the end, we shared our Joint Core Values statements and discussed what it was going to take to be successful.  I laid out my expectations of them for the coming year, “Create the Success” was the chosen tagline.  North Fayette Valley was born out of the concern for what’s best for our students.  It is now our responsibility to carry out the plan. The potential for success is there, its up to us, the teachers, associates, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and cooks to make that happen now. The kids seem to be getting along fine in their team practices and other joint activities so far.  The research shows us how to create success; set high expectations, form personal relationships, plan to serve low performing students, be consistent and aligned, and have a focus on student achievement.  We can create success if we follow these guidelines.   We need to create success.  The kids are counting on it, because they cannot move up in the world without us.

We are proud to be NVF, and we hope you are too.  As this year goes on and the relationships grow, our partnership will get stronger.  The employees I met with today are a great group.  They are dedicated, hard working conscientious workers.   I think of all of them as educators, because no matter the job, they are role models and many little eyes and ears will be upon them.  I am more excited about this partnership now than I've been all summer.  As always if you have questions or comments, stop in, call or send an email.   Good Luck to all North Fayette Valley TigerHawks in all their endeavors.

Proud to be . . . . NFV!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Shared Core Values

The core values of an organization are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves.
I took this definition of Core Values from a National Park Service  website because it seems to convey a need our two school districts have for joint cooperation.  As we get into the school year there will be differences of opinions and new procedures for a lot of things.  Sometimes we'll have some good past practice to guide us, others may not be so clear.  By defining a set of values with which we base decisions in those moments, we increase our chances of being consistent and compatible.

 A District Leadership Team composed of lead teams from both Valley and North Fayette met in late June to discuss and plan for this upcoming year.  Our first order of business was to compare each districts' mission and vision statement and any other value statements we had for both.  From that comparison we developed a list of statements that should become a common reference point for our partnership throughout the year.  So, without further confusing the issue our Core Values as identified by this group are:

1.  A Safe Environment - When we discuss safety we mean both physical and emotional safety.  The physical part should be obvious to everyone, clean well maintained buildings and grounds with adequate security and supervision to reduce physical accidents as much as possible.  Emotionally, we need to eradicate bullying and harassment, we need to create an educational environment where students can take risks academically without fear of ridicule or of failure.  Some of the best lessons in life are learned through failure, it is what makes success possible and more rewarding.

2.  Students as unique individuals with diverse interests and abilities - What a boring world we would live in if we were all alike! Diversity amongst us makes us aware of all the opportunities for growth each of us has. Intellectual diversity should be stimulating and thought provoking, students with different strengths and weaknesses should be respected for their differences and nurtured as a vital component of our community. We value schools and classrooms that support all of our students to be and do their best, regardless of their background, abilities or disabilities, and opinions.

3. Good citizenship  (e.g. Integrity, Ethics, Respect, Responsibility) - If we don't have integrity we have nothing. Good citizens possess an ethical attitude that identifies and learns the boundaries of good citizenship, respects the rights of others and meets their personal responsibilities.

4. Achievement, (Reaching their Full Potential) - This is another way of saying we hold high expectations for accomplishment. Students should aim to do quality work, on time and do their best work, everyday! We are not going through the motions of school, we are learning and reinforcing learning through consistently demanding best effort. As with not being afraid of failure, students should also not be afraid of trying hard. Too many times students don't try, for fear that they can't do. None of us knows what we are capable of until we strive to do our best work everyday, all day, not just in the classes or activities we like the most.

5. Partnerships with parents - Please do not think of the relationship between you and your child's teacher or administrators or coaches as adversarial. We will be encouraging GOOD NEWS from North Fayette Valley to go home as often as bad news does. We want to do that so that our communications are frequent and meaningful. If your child is having difficulty, lets talk about it. If you believe any school employee is not meeting expectations, lets discuss that. Talk to the people who can help you solve problems rather than complaining to those who simply nod their head and agree with you.

6. Partnerships with the community - In our classrooms are not the only places learning can take place. Teachers are not the only people in the community who can teach their children. Real life experiences from all facets of our community are important to all students. When we say partnerships with community we are not just talking about money! Volunteers, committee members, guest speakers, field trips, demonstrations, job coaches and all kinds of role models are necessary for our villages to raise these children. Please get involved!

7. A well rounded comprehensive curriculum - One of the big reasons we have entered into this arrangement is to maintain a broad and deep curriculum for all of our students. There are limits, but if we create the aforementioned partnerships and get away from our standard thinking about what school is or was for all of us adults, you never know where and how we can find learning opportunities. We're still not a big school, but we are positioned to do much more together than we ever could apart.

8. Lifelong learning for all - I'm an old dog. These are new tricks.  These students need to learn persistence in learning and the best way we can do that is by setting the example. If I can pick up on things like blogging and Twitter, iPhones and tablets, then you can all learn something new everyday. Don't say you don't know how to do something before you try to learn it. Even if you don't succeed you'll be better off than never having tried. Our society demands more from its future citizens than we ever could imagine. These students need to learn persistence in learning and the best way we can do that is by setting the example.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Welcome to my North Fayette Valley Blog

We are less than 5 weeks now from starting school as North Fayette Valley on August 21, 2013.   We are gradually transforming a lot of things from NF and Valley to the NFV colors and TigerHawks name.  This blog is one of them, my previous efforts have been at NF HawkBlog, but that is obviously not appropriate for our new venture.  As you can tell I'm not very creative and so you don't get catchy, cool sounding titles in my blogging, this little bit of alliteration will have to be good enough.  There is a purpose to NFV Navigator though, it is twofold.  Obviously as superintendent of both school districts  I will try to navigate education reform proposals, policy decisions and budgetary challenges to create the best future for NFV.  But I also want this Navigator blog to provide you, the public, with information about the future of the district and to allow you to provide us feedback.  If you see us making a wrong turn, let us know.  If you like the direction were going, of course we'd like to know that too.  Hopefully we can use this blog to explain to you why we are going the directions we are going and to hear why you believe thats either good or bad navigation.

In other changes, the @NorthFayetteCSD twitter account has now been discontinued and renamed @NFVtigerhawks.  Follow that account for schedule changes, weather cancellations and other important announcements coming from any of our NFV schools.  The @NFVtigerhawks feed is also automatically displayed on the NFV website that will be established at www.northfayetteschool.org.  The Valley website at www.valley.k12.ia.us will still be active and connected to the NFV sites as well.  Transforming these sites into one will take some time and some software changes ($$) so please bear with our dual web presence for the first year.

As we prepare for our new school year, we've created some Core Values that both districts have approved and that we will use to guide our decision making.  In my next post I will be explaining what these Core Values are and why they are the first step in Navigating NFV towards future excellance.