Articles from April, 2012

The week in blogs: But can your principal do this?

Blogger Fawn Johnson mentions “hapless Principal Krupp” from the Captain Underpants series and “deliciously evil Principal Rooney” from Ferris Bueller’s Day off. But my favorite fictional school leader is Principal Skinner from The Simpsons, who, many years ago, as I recall, escaped from some nefarious crooks who had locked him in the school basement by using — what else? — fifth grade science principles. Pretty cool!

Real principals don’t have to be quite as heroic, but, as Johnson notes in her National Journal blog, the job involves a lot more in the way of academic leadership than it once did. Citing recent a recent report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education, Johnson says that principals can be the key to turning around low-performing schools — if they’re given enough years to do the work.

This Week in Education’s John Thompson takes a skeptical look at credit recovery in his blog, aptly titled “In Praise of Seat Time.” He’s commenting on two other critiques of the practice by the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews and Title I-Derland’s Nancy Connor. Also see “Course Credits on the Quick, in the March/April issue of the Harvard Education Letter.

Lastly, it’s college acceptance/rejection season, and. Time’s Andrew Rotherham has some sage words for high schoolers receiving “the thin envelop.”

Lawrence Hardy|April 28th, 2012|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Center for Public Education, Educational Research, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

Kentucky’s C. Ed Massey starts term as president of the National School Boards Association

School board leader C. Ed Massey of Kentucky’s Boone County Schools has become the 65th President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) at the association’s Annual Conference that took place April 21-23, 2012 in Boston.

David A. Pickler of Tennessee’s Shelby County Schools was elected President-elect and Anne M. Byrne of New York’s Nanuet Union Free School District was elected Secretary-Treasurer by NSBA’s 150-member Delegate Assembly.

Massey has served on the Boone County Board of Education for 16 years and is a former President of the Kentucky School Boards Association. Massey was first elected to NSBA’s Board of Directors in 2008, serving as a Central Region Director representing school board members in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In 2010, Massey was elected Secretary-Treasurer and in 2011 was elected President-elect.

In the one-year term as President, which began on Monday, April 23,2012, Massey plans to focus on NSBA’s service to its state associations.

“My goal as NSBA’s President is to find new ways to serve our state associations, which will enhance their work with our local boards in promoting student achievement,” Massey said. “I’m honored and humbled to serve as the President of NSBA and I look forward to serving as a national voice to promote public education through local school board leadership.”

NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant praised Massey’s dedication to school board governance.

“Ed Massey is passionate about the children we serve, and he brings not only that passion but the understanding of the importance of school boards working with their state associations,” said Bryant. “As a local school board leader, former state association leader, and now national President, he understands the synergy and power of the connection between the local school board, state association, and NSBA.”

NSBA’s Delegate Assembly also elected the following school board members as regional directors:

  • Miranda A. Beard of Mississippi’s Laurel School District was re-elected as a Southern Region Director;
  • Judy R. Lair of Kansas’s Woodson School District 366 was re-elected as a Western Region Director;
  • Kristin A. Malin of Maine’s Georgetown Central School elected as a Northeast Region Director;
  • S. Scott Mueller of Rhode Island’s South Kingstown School District re-elected as a Northeast Region Director;
  • John S. Payne of Indiana’s Blackford County Schools re-elected as a Central Region Director; and
  • Frank C. Pugh of California’s Santa Rosa City Schools elected as a Pacific Region Director.

Serving as NSBA ex-officio directors will be: Sandra J. Jensen of Nebraska’s School District of Omaha as the Chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education; Paul H. Chatman of California’s Ocean View School District as Chair of the National Black Caucus of School Boards; Mike DeLaO of Arizona’s Safford Unified School District as Chair of the National Hispanic Caucus of School Board Members; Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda of the Nebraska law firm of Baird Holm, LLP as the Chair of the Council of School Attorneys; Dr. Edwin Dunlap, Jr. of the North Carolina School Boards Association as the Chair of the Organization of State Association Executive Directors’ Liaison Committee; and NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

Alexis Rice|April 24th, 2012|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Announcements, Leadership, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

School board leader’s letter to Obama on the need to rethink public education gets national attention

Mary Broderick’s, the 2011-2012 president of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), open letter to President Barack Obama has had far reach. Broderick shared the letter during her speech Sunday, April 22 at NSBA’s Annual Conference.

The letter noted that “public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track” and encouraged Obama to convene a national dialogue on education reform.

Conference attendees began posting tweets about the powerful letter and the letter went viral on Twitter. Today, the letter was published in The Washington Post‘s The Answer Sheet.

Here is the full letter:

Dear President Obama:

The night of your election, in Grant Park, you said, “I will listen to you especially when we disagree.” We are all committed to the best educational future for the children of America. Yet, as the nation prepares for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), school board members and top educational thinkers overwhelming urge abandoning the current “command-and-control” federal educational oversight. America’s treasure lies in unleashing the creativity of our youth. Though well-intentioned, the current federal direction is ignoring and working against much of what we know about student motivation and achievement. Instead, the federal government should support local efforts to ignite curiosity, creative potential, and a drive for excellence among students and staff.

Throughout my presidency of the National School Boards Association, I have travelled to many states and written for our national journal and asked for input to this letter. School board members and educators across the country have contributed their thinking here. We share your sense of urgency: We must give every child, no matter their circumstances, the opportunity to excel. We must ensure high quality experiences so each child develops fully. Our major disagreement comes from how we go about this task.

We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it. Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)

Other countries that traditionally focus on testing recognize the shortcomings of their systems and come to our shores to learn how we inspire a spirit of innovation. And decades of work by motivation theorists, such as Daniel Pink, help us understand why a focus on testing and standards may not cultivate the learners we want. Others have found that such narrow focus restricts our views of what is possible, and even causes unethical behavior, such as the rash of testing scandals here and abroad.

By contrast, Finnish schools are now “exemplars of many of the success indicators we … want to see in American schools. Achievement is consistently high. Students are self-motivated and engaged in their learning. Schools have wide latitude to decide on their own programs, and there are no intrusive sanctions.” (Jill Wynns, CA)

The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.

Our students will never be first in the world on standardized tests. We never have come close. Nor is that something toward which we should aspire! We simply are not a compliant people willing to absorb facts without challenge. But we have had the most innovative workforce in the world (and now vie with Finland for that top position). Though intended to encourage equity, our current policy is, in fact, driving us toward mediocrity. Our students may be becoming better regurgitators, but what we need is excellent thinkers.

We have significant challenges in many of our communities, especially those that are underserved, yet we continue to boast some of the best schools in the world. We have models of excellence from which we should all be learning. Our vision should be to empower excellence—to draw out the best in each and every individual in our schools. We should recognize that our children’s brains are our most important resource. We should aspire to having children take responsibility for their own learning. We can have a common curriculum as a guide, but leave it to our local “civic labs,” as Thomas Jefferson envisioned them, to find optimal ways to inspire learning.

That said, we won’t achieve any vision without significant teamwork. Finland’s process may offer a model: They spent years developing national consensus about the essentials for successful education and, hence, the nation. Collaboration can promote independent thinking and action.

As a nation, rather than inspiring people toward a vision of excellence, we have been blaming some for blocking student achievement. It is time to inspire all toward a pursuit of excellence for each of our children.

The work world our children inherit will be significantly different from the one we have known. Jobs in the 20th century were mostly algorithmic or routine. According to McKinsey & Co., most such jobs have already evaporated because of automation and outsourcing. Future work will be more complex, so we had better prepare students differently than through standardized tests.

As the nature of work changes, so too must motivators. Carrots and sticks, which worked with routine jobs, actually impede efforts when the work is more complex, Daniel Pink says. Instead, the rewards of learning and challenges of the work itself must now be the primary motivators. Adults learn best, experts say, if they feel competent, autonomous, and a sense of belonging.

Much in our current school systems works against these, and our new national focus on teacher evaluation will continue that trend. As a result of ignoring innate needs, our schools too often are not innovative hubs. Yet to meet the challenges of our future, we must cultivate a spirit of innovation and inspiration. We will only succeed in preparing for our future if we empower all in our schools to think through complex problems and processes and generate solutions. Rather than laboring over bureaucratic compliance problems, let’s engage students and teachers (even board members!) in solving problems of teaching and learning.

Our schools will never become great through threat or intimidation. Schools must be safe places to take risks, where staff members and students feel valued for their ideas and talents and empowered to fail so that they can grow. Students will learn what they see, experience, and enjoy.

We have the knowledge and experience to do this at the national, state, and local levels. However, the present narrow focus on accountability and trend of demonizing those in public education, arrogantly focusing on “failing schools,” is diametrically opposed to fostering excellence.

Again, we can learn from Finland: It holds teachers in high regard (appealing to competence). Teacher training includes a strong feedback loop; professional development is embedded in the work, through coaching and ongoing support (appealing to belonging). People are willing to try new approaches and ideas (appealing to autonomy).

Innovation requires investment. Retired school superintendent Jack Reynolds noted that under the original ESEA we had a national system for identifying, supporting, and sharing excellent, vetted educational ideas. We should return to such a system of research, development, and diffusion, using technology to share teaching and learning approaches. Further, Ohio school board member Charlie Wilson suggested we encourage and fund our universities to conduct empirical research on the considerable experimentation that does occur in our schools.

Some board members suggested that we benefit from broad, guiding curriculum principles. Wyoming’s David Fall encouraged you to continue your work with the National Governors’ Association to refine core standards. However, our children would be best served if the standards were guides, but decision-making remained local.

Across the nation, I have heard growing support for an emphasis on the early years. To close achievement gaps, we need to provide rich early learning environments for children born with the least. We need to teach their parents how to encourage their learning. Please continue to support states’ early childhood efforts.

Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track. As we have moved decision-making farther from teachers and children, we have jeopardized our competitive edge and keys to our national success: our ingenuity, our openness to innovation, and our creativity.

I urge you to convene a national dialogue, not made up of politicians, but including the breadth of educational opinion, to reconsider our educational direction. I would love to help you do this. Let’s ensure that each child has the tools to be successful. Let’s marshal the nation’s brain power and tap into the research, proven practice, and demonstrated evidence of excellence.

Please bring your parent hat to determining our new direction for public education. Your daughters, like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. If we work collaboratively on a shared vision of excellence, if we foster team development, encourage innovation, and care for the growth of our teachers, our children will lead us into the future with confidence. And public education will remain the cornerstone of our vibrant democracy.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Mary Broderick
National School Boards Association President

Alexis Rice|April 24th, 2012|Categories: Uncategorized, School Boards, School Reform, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA thanks the Annual Conference sponsors

Thank you to our 2012 Annual Conference Sponsors, who helped make the 72nd Annual Conference in Boston a success!

ARAMARK Education
Cable in the Classroom
Chartwells School Dining Services
The College Board
Follett Software
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGraw-Hill Education
NAMM Foundation
Optoma Technology, Inc.
Rosetta Stone

Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP
Integra Telecom
Pearson Education
Preferred Meal Systems, Inc.
TransACT Communications, Inc.

Baird, Holm LLP
FBMC Benefits Management
The North Carolina Council of School Attorneys
Tharrington Smith, LLP
Tool Factory
Turner Construction

Erin Walsh|April 24th, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

Digital Districts Survey reveal schools making inroads with technology

The findings of the eighth annual Digital Districts Survey revealed that school systems continue to use technology to build community dialogue, manage their data and deliver instruction, among other things,

“It’s a great checkpoint to see where you are on technology and how you’re moving along,” John Halpin, vice-president of education strategic programs at the Center for Digital Education, told audience members at a Monday morning session where the results and a few of the top ranking school districts were presented.

Conducted by the center in partnership with NSBA, the survey queried school districts from across the country with 34 questions regarding key areas like board policy and meetings, stakeholder engagement, data management and safety, curriculum and delivery models and technology skills training for students and teachers.

About a third of the respondents were small districts, 41 percent were large districts, and the rest were mid-size districts.

Among the highlights of the survey:

  • Three-fourths of responding districts maintain a presence on one or more social networking sites; up 43% in the last year and a half.
  • Districts are embracing various technologies to make board meetings available, with 18 percent reporting they had provisions for supporting digital live participation during meetings.
  • Virtually all districts provide technology professional development; nearly 61 percent provide ongoing training for instructional staff.


One of the leading technology innovation districts identified in the survey was Henry County Public Schools in southern Virginia.

With manufacturers like Pillowtex, Bassett Furniture and Stanley Furniture in their backyard, Henry County used to be called the bedroom and dining room furniture capitol of the world, said school board member Betsy Mattox.

But the economic downturn and the subsequent spike in unemployment— it currently hovers above 10 percent— forced the county to reconfigure its economic development plans and the school district, Mattox said, became a willing partner in that.

“We had to be part of the solution and so we began to develop programs to make sure all students would be ready when they graduated,” she said. But it wasn’t easy.

When their former superintendent, Anthony Jackson, joined the district in 2009 he asked where his computer was, and for that matter, where were the computers for the students, the answer was, there weren’t any.

A small, rural district of about 7,000 students, Henry County began slowly building their technology capacity, getting some help from the state’s department of education which identified the district and three others to launch a pilot program with iPads. Officials were so impressed with the results they expanded the initiative from just 20 iPads in two classrooms to nearly 3,000 devices for every third through fifth-grader and have plans to do more.

“Make sure when you are implementing these programs you don’t forget about the special education students,” advised Janet Copenhaven, the district’s technology director. One of the students the district gave an iPad to was an autistic student, who could speak just one word. But after using various features and education applications that had been downloaded on the iPad, the student not only wrote an e-book but read it aloud during a board meeting.

“I tell you, there was not a dry eye in the house,” Copenhaven said.

The full details of the survey, along with more from three of the leading innovation districts will be featured in an upcoming webinar hosted by the Center for Digital Education. Visit here to register for the May 10 webinar.

Naomi Dillon|April 24th, 2012|Categories: NSBA Recognition Programs, NSBA Annual Conference 2012|Tags: , , , |

Massey focuses on ‘adaptive change’ in education

A few years ago, C. Ed Massey attended an Executive Educators’ Leadership Institute at Harvard University and learned about a concept called “adaptive change.”

For any organization to change, the concept that nothing stays the same must be embraced, says Massey, a member of Kentucky’s Boone County school board who took the reins of the NSBA presidency on Monday. His theme for the year-long appointment will be “adaptive change” and he will urge educators to adopt its principles.

So what does “adaptive change” mean for K-12 education and school boards?

“To keep up with the way students learn and the new concepts in education, we must adapt our ways of teaching and our ways of learning,” Massey says. “We must engage flexibility and get beyond our comfort zones. We must view education as a laboratory where we experiment with what works and what doesn’t and always strive to create new ways to engage students.”

The Boone County school board, for instance, began using adaptive change by moving toward data-driven decision making more than 10 years ago. District leaders adjust, adapt, and implement programs to strive for continuous improvement, and if something is not working, it’s discarded or changed, Massey says.

“We are constantly adapting to new processes and new requirements,” he says. “Notwithstanding, we never leave our goal of having every student college and career ready.”

Massey, a lawyer, learned the value of an education early in life from his father, a principal, and his mother, a teacher. “I have had many experiences that fueled my passion for education,” he says. “I was told that an education could never be taken away from me. I was also told that education was the foundation for my life whatever career I might choose.”

Massey graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in criminal justice and plans for law school. He worked as a substitute teacher while attending Chase College School of Law at night, then opened his own practice that focused on all forms of civil litigation. Four years ago, he and a former mentor formed the firm of Blankenship Massey and Associates PLLC, and he’s recently taken on more cases dealing with military justice.

“By far the most exciting and challenging part of my job is trial work,” Massey says. “The greatest reward of being a lawyer is that moment when justice is truly served or when a client thanks you for making a difference in their life.”

In his 16 years on the school board in Boone County, a suburb of Cincinnati, Massey and his colleagues have been challenged to deal with constant growth and dwindling funds. Massey reports that the district is ranked in the top 10, out of 174, for academic performance in the state. It’s also in the top 10 percent nationally for efficiency with finances.

Bill Scott, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association, describes Massey as “a leader who uses thoughtful humor as a tool to engage people.” Massey served several years on the KSBA board, including two years as the association’s president.

“When it comes to decisions that influence the lives and learning opportunities for children, Ed can turn on a laser-like focus to bring other people to ask themselves, ‘How does this help kids?’” Scott says. “On his own Boone County board, Ed has made votes in hard budgetary times that epitomize the type of decision-maker we’d like all school board members to be – protecting classroom resources and, when necessary, creating new resources that help students learn.

Massey credits the district’s success to his colleagues’ teamwork and “a tremendous cadre of teachers and administrators.”

“Our board is like a family. We are close friends in and outside of the board room,” Massey says. “We can disagree and that is OK. We follow our decisions and keep to the core mission of doing what is best for students.”

Massey’s “actual” family includes his wife, Anita, whom he married in college and later became the bookkeeper for his law practice, and three daughters, Kayla, Brittany, and Breanna, ages 12 to 18. Other “immediate family members” include a dog, Tango, Lilly the pig, eleven rabbits and two turtles.

Just because he’s from Kentucky, don’t assume Massey is a just college basketball fan. NASCAR racing is his true passion, and anyone who’s spent any time with him knows he tends to bring up the auto racing circuit in every conversation. “It is more than a sport, it is an event. To hear the roar of 800 horsepower engines as they pass by is exhilarating,” he says.

“It is also a classroom. For a pit crew to change four tires, clean the windshield, make adjustments to the car and fill the car with fuel in fourteen seconds is a class in team work. Board members could learn a lot from a pit stop where everyone knows their role and executes it perfectly.”

Besides NASCAR, Massey also loves hunting, fishing, and photography. “Needless to say, between my family, church, work, local school board, national school board and my hobbies, I don’t have many idle moments,” he says. “In short, I love life.”

Joetta Sack-Min|April 23rd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

Canada: Leaders need to show courage in advocating for education

Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, was surprised when educators from Singapore — the world’s top performing nation on many international tests — asked to visit his program, which serves some of the poorest children in New York.

“Why?” asked Canada, the keynote speaker at Monday’s Third General Session.

“We want to have every single one of our kids prepared and in college.” said one of the representatives, who knew that Canada and HCZ had a reputation for helping children whom others had given up on. Apparently, even in Singapore there are children who aren’t succeeding – – and the Southeast Asian nation is determined to do something about it.

Canada contrasted that commitment with the attitude that often prevails among decision makers in the United States.

“The only things that folks in this country want to talk about is, ‘How much does it cost?’” he said.

This is disturbing on several fronts, Canada said. First, in the big-picture scheme of things, it cost pennies compared with, say, the $40,000 per person we spend each year on incarceration. And the U.S. incarcerates far more of its citizens than any other nation in the world.

It’s disturbing when we consider the potential — personal and economic — that we’ve lost when we give up on some children, and are told, as Canada once was, that his plan to broaden the safety net of support for disadvantaged students, just wasn’t “scalable.” Why is it, Canada asked, that incarceration is scalable, and education isn’t?

This should not be a debate, this belief that fully supporting children is good policy, Canada said. It’s the truth. What’s missing, he said, is the kind of courage displayed by advocates of other social truths, like the civil rights workers who persisted despite beatings, fire hoses, and vicious dogs.

“We have diminished the importance of standing up for something you believe in,” Canada said.

The civil rights leaders were brave, Canada said, but he was talking the unrecognized people in the trenches, who are analogous, he said, to the thousands of school board members who are the first-line advocates for children.

Those advocates should not be afraid to try new things, such as longer school days and year-round school for disadvantaged children who aren’t going to catch up any other way. Businesses see a need for change, and make changes, Canada said; why can’t schools?

“Imagine if Xerox did not have to change,” Canada said. “Imagine if IBM did not have to change. They changed. How come we’re doing everything the way we used to do?

“If we don’t stand up and fight for the kids,” Canada said, “we’re going to lose the nation. …. Our job,” he said, is not trying to figure out what our kids can live without. Our job is to find something that kids can live for.”

Earlier during the session newly elected NSBA President C. Ed Massey touched on many of the same themes, saying that schools must change to keep up with the changes of the 21st century.

“We live in a world of constant change.” Massey said. “Our families are changing. Our communities are changing. Our nation is changing. And education has also changed.”

Massey urged board members, superintendents, and other education advocates to unite and speak with one voice.

“There are 1,000 voices on Capitol Hill.” Massey said. “But what if we became the voice?”

Lawrence Hardy|April 23rd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

The children left behind

Why are so-called Persistently Low Achieving Schools persistently low achieving? That’s the question Richard Wilde, superintendent of Arizona’s San Carlos Unified School District, asked the audience Monday in a presentation called The Child Left Behind.

The answer, it turns out, is both logical — and surprising.

Is it because of ineffective learners, ineffective teachers, or three other words you could put “ineffective” in front of: principals, school boards, or state legislatures? Wilde asked. (He didn’t include “superintendents” because, well, he is a superintendent, he said with a smile, but you could add that to the list as well.)

So which is it? All of the above, Wilde said. And before you protest that there are no ineffective learners, consider why this makes sense. Because if students aren’t achieving, by definition, nobody’s being effective. Unfortunately, years of national education policy — characterized, but not commencing with, A Nation at Risk in 1983 – have drawn the wrong conclusion from that tautology, which goes something like this:

If effective schools have effective teachers, principals, school boards, etc., those that fall short must have ineffective ones. Logical on the surface, Wilde said, but quite flawed when you look closer. Nonetheless, it’s guided school improvement models like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top: Thus, the practice is: if the staff or the principal is not cutting it, throw them out and start with new ones.

The reason this doesn’t work, Wilde said, is that the problem is the system in which these people are working, not necessarily the people themselves. So changing personnel without changing an ineffective system is inadequate, at best, and possibly destructive.

Wilde, a retired superintendent from Washington state, took this thinking to heart when he decided to return to lead San Carlos, which serves 1,300 mostly Native American students, only 65 percent of whom graduate from high school. In a presentation with Alberto Siqueiros, of the nearby Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified School District, other representatives from both districts, and education consultant Barbara Guyton, Wilde and his colleagues showed how seeing the education system in its local context is the important first step to changing it.

For San Carlos, that context includes a 57 percent poverty rate, community unemployment of 65 percent, and an adult high school graduation rate of 55 percent. In Siqueiros’ 1,000-student district, those numbers are even worse: poverty of 80 percent and an adult high school graduation rate of 50 percent.

Guyton talked about the importance of the 3Rs: rigor, relevance, and relationships. But you can’t have the first R — rigor –without first attending to relevance and relationships: that is, the context in which children are expected to learn.

“A fundamental question for a student is, ‘Does my teacher like me?’” Alice Terry had said. Therefore, relationship is key. Secondly, the speakers noted: “If students perceive no relevant link, even the most motivated and willing students are not able to learn.”

Understanding the context of learning means understanding where parents are coming from, and responding accordingly. Siqueiros’ district considered this when it thought about how it handled the transition between eighth grade to high school.

“What did we do away with?” asked Siqueiros. “Eighth grade graduation.”

Some parents complained, saying “We need this because this is as far as our child’s going to go.” But that was exactly the point: in order to influence a culture where 10 percent of students drop out before ninth grade, the district had to rethink its policies and procedures.

In San Carlos, many children enter kindergarten knowing only about 500 words, when they should know 1,500. To address that issue, the district has established the Tohono O’odham C-20 Council. The “C’” stands for conception, meaning that the district and the community have committed themselves to supporting families and children even before they are born, ensuring that expectant mothers get good support and prenatal care.

San Carlos has a Head Start program serving 215 children, but 500 to 700 are eligible, said board member Sara Mae Cassa. So the district is planning to start its own early childhood program next fall.

Test scores remain low and essentially stagnant. But change such as this takes time, and already, Cassa said, with increased engagement and rigor, 30 high school students have moved up as much as two grades in less than a year. It’s about rigor, yes, but rigor that depends on understanding and responding to the context in which children learn. That, and having big plans for the future.

“So when we say that we’re going to have an excellent school in 2015,” said Cassa. “We will.”

Lawrence Hardy|April 23rd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

Programs to engage parents in the district’s work

In order to improve student learning, schools need parental support. But what happens when parents don’t know how to provide that support?

To answer that question, school leaders in the Alhambra Elementary School District sponsor more than 20 programs designed to engage parents, as well as teachers and community members, in the district’s work.

“We know that, in order to provide our students with a quality education, we must first engage our parents and community to the greatest extent possible,” Williams, superintendent of the 14,000-student school system in Phoenix, Ariz., told attendees at a Monday workshop on parental engagement.

The vast majority of Alhambra students live in poverty, and many parents don’t have a high school diploma, she said. So the need to inform, education, and engage parents is clear.

“We believe our students deserve … the American Dream. And those things that we believe in are things that we align our actions with.”

Among those actions are multiple programs designed with parents in mind:

* Empowering Parents as Partners Conference and Community Expo — This year’s event focused on healthy lifestyles, and more than 100 vendors were available to provide parents with information about resources and services available in the community.

* Kids at Work/Arts Alive Festival — This event showcases student art and music, and it features hundreds of hands-on craft activities for students and parents.

* Bring Your Parents to School Day — A district-wide event designed to bring parents into the schools to see their children learning in a 21st century classroom. Williams writes letters to area employers asking them to permit employees to participate.

* Money Matters newsletter — A publication provided to all residents annually with information on the budget and education spending issues.

* A redesigned website — The district’s new website was designed to improve communications to parents, allowing them, for example, to access nightly homework assignments, spelling lists, and student grades.

* Social Media Campaign — Parents now can “like” the school district on Facebook or follow district news on Twitter.

* Legislative Committee — Parents who participate have the opportunity to meet four times a year with school officials for a briefing on legislation affecting the local schools.

* State Capitol Tour and Luncheon — An opportunity for parents to visit the state capitol with school officials and participate in a luncheon with state legislators.

* New Parent Orientation — New parents are invited to a meeting where school officials introduce themselves, provide information on the district, and list opportunities within the district for parents to get involve and help their child’s education.

* Parent Leadership Ambassadors — Community leaders are asked to work with local schools to foster improved communications between the schools and families.

Del Stover|April 23rd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|

Share the Success: Reaching out to the community

When money was tight and potential budget cuts were in the air, school leaders in the Conestoga Valley School District laid out the facts in community meetings — and won a round of applause.

“We wanted to be proactive about the budget,” board President Daryl Stoltzfus said at Monday’s Share the Success workshop on how school boards can communicate and interact with their community.

“We put out the information about what we were thinking of cutting,” he said. “We have a least three [community forums] per year. We give a presentation on the budget then break down into small groups … with a board member and administrator.”

Still, he added, “How many times do you get applause from the community?”

Despite the success of this outreach effort, one gesture isn’t enough to build strong community support for a school system. What makes the difference is a board communications plan that puts in place a roster of programs and initiatives that constantly reach out to community members of all types.

Throughout the workshop, various district officials talked about their various outreach programs. Board Treasurer Todd Shertzer talked about the board’s outreach to students — through opportunities for student to speak at board meetings, student recognition programs, and a conscious effort by board members to attend athletic, academic, and artistic events in the district.

“One of the things we want to do as a school board … we want to give students a sense of value,” he said.

To strengthen the board’s relationship with staff, the school board reaches out in two main ways, said board member Idette Groff. One is through recognition programs honoring staff; the other is through board members’ involvement in various school and district committees.

“We want to embrace the true sense of team within our district,” she said, noting that board members participate in various district advisory teams, booster clubs, education foundations, strategic planning committees, and other bodies that bring them in contact with both certified and classified employees.

“This idea came from our awareness that we evaluate the superintendent on staff relations with no insight on those relations,” she said. “Now we hear about issues directly from staff, and they get to see us … it gives us a chance to get insight into what their issues are.”

Stoltzfus spoke of the board’s outreach to parents and local residents. Hiring a full-time communications expert was crucial to this effort, helping publicize the board’s message through print and online media.

“You really need this. I can tell you it was one of the best moves we made as a district.”

Over the years, the board also has developed a number of important outreach efforts to the community. A Volunteers in Action program recognizes the vital role of school volunteers, he said. A Senior Citizen Holiday Breakfast helps outreach efforts to older citizens who might not have children in the local schools but still vote on ballot items of importance to the schools.

One key communication tool is the district’s CV Communicators group, Stoltzfus said. This group, which receives regular e-mails on district issues, consists of more than 200 leading community members and other key communicators in the community.

“They are the talkers in the community,” he said. “If we want to be proactive in getting out accurate information about what the community would want to know, they’ll talk to the others [in the community] and keep them updated.”

Del Stover|April 23rd, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012|
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