Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teacher Leadership and Compensation

I have the opportunity to participate in a variety of professional organizations as a result of my role as Superintendent. One such group is the School Executives of Iowa, which is a branch of the School Administrators of Iowa. The Executive group meets about four times a year with the primary goal of reviewing pending legislation and developing position statements as to whether or not we support legislation, support legislation with caveats, or are opposed to legislation. Those position statements are forwarded to the legislature and Governor, finally becoming talking points from which we are able to engage our elected officials. 

This last week we had an opportunity to review the recommendations of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force, and are now in the process of preparing a white paper with an official position from the school executives of Iowa. I am not going to go into all the recommendations and rate them with a thumbs up or thumbs down, but will rather provide some comments in broad terms. You can check out the proposed recommendations here. When the white paper is complete I will be sure to share that with you.

The task force was a directive of the General Assembly and was given the directive to evaluate the way in which teachers are compensated and make recommendations to improve upon this system. It was also a goal to find ways in which to increase wages of teachers and to develop a mechanism to increase the average salary of teachers who take on leadership roles. Twenty-Five stakeholders representing a cross section of professional educators including teachers, principals, superintendents, education associations, school boards, the Department of Education, and higher education. Early on it was decided that only recommendations that were reached through consensus would be included in the final report. This in an of itself is worthy of note: everything that was included in the recommendation was supported in principle by the task force.

If adopted, the recommendations have the ability to completely transform how teachers in Iowa have been compensated. Currently Iowa teachers are compensated based on the number of years they have been in the system and the level of education they have received. This new system proposes to radically change the structure, classifying teachers as initial, career, model, mentor, and lead. Again I encourage you to read the report yourself.

In essence, the executive leaders of Iowa will endorse this plan with caveats. The biggest question mark right now is the cost. Depending on which model you look at, the cost of increasing the base salary of entry level teachers to $35,000 and implementing the proposals is well north of $100 Million--as a conservative estimate. During the past three years cuts to education in Iowa have been deep. This makes it hard for me to believe that this is something that will actually be funded. One of the recommendations explicitly states a need for a new infusion of revenue into this system. It also calls for an evaluation of existing allocations to see if they may be 'repurposed'. This concerns me--and it should you too. Last year when the idea of re-purposing was brought up, the early childhood block grant was under scrutiny. This is the money that we used to reduce class size. Although our class sizes aren't small by any stretch of the imagination, think of what they would be without this appropriation. In regard to properly funding this proposal and education in general, there does appear to be some good news. Current estimates suggest an ending fund balance on June 30th of $1 Billion.

Whether or not our political leaders choose to invest in Iowa's future is another question entirely.

So the bottom line in all this discussion is that nothing really matters if our political leaders can't set aside their differences and work for the common good. Depending on when you read this--if online before the election or in the newspaper after the election; we can all agree that the advertisements that we have been subjected to were over the top. Since the dust has settled (or about to), hopefully we can get back to the business of the people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1:1 Laptops: Should We, or Shouldn't We?

In Iowa there are approximately 350 school districts. Of those, roughly 120 have decided to implement a laptop computer initiative (coined the 1:1) with either part of [or all of] their student body. Each year, the number of school districts making this investment continues to grow, with another 40 school districts expected to 'go' next year. Many will tell you this is the greatest reform in education since the pencil and paper--and this tool will completely revolutionize education. As more and more school districts begin to embrace this new paradigm of learning, the pressures for school districts to make this investment increases. I have always been an advocate of 21st Century Learning and believe that having computer access is critical for our learners. But is it the right time for the Hudson Community School District to take the plunge?

Yes, we are having very serious conversations about whether or not to 'take the plunge'. But, my point from the beginning of these conversations has been the same. We need to make sure that if/when we do this, it is for the right reasons. If we do this because the school district to the east or west of us is; well that would be the wrong reason. If we do this because of external pressures from constituents, that would be the wrong reason. So our deliberations are careful, thoughtful, and hopefully broad ranging. To speak metaphorically, if we do this for the wrong reason, we may end up with a 'boat in the driveway we don't want' or a 'pacifier that is way too expensive'.

The monetary investment is certainly worth considering. We are not talking about buying computers for our students and then being set for life. This is an investment into perpetuity. How old is the computer that you have at home? I would guess that if it is older than four years it probably doesn't have the memory or RAM needed to make it work with the latest and greatest software. Many modern websites probably don't work very will either. Our plan must consider how we are going to refresh the fleet to make sure we have modern machines that work without fail for the students. To provide laptop computers for just 9-12 grade students is a recurring cost somewhere in the vicinity of $120,000 annually.

Another consideration is teacher training. Believe me, if we purchase computers for the students and then just turn the teachers loose, this will not be a successful venture. In school districts where this has failed it has been because there was not a concerted effort change the paradigm from which the teachers are operating. A comprehensive professional development program will most certainly be a necessity for the successful implementation of an initiative such as this.

Considering everything that has been mentioned this may seem like an insurmountable task, one not worthy of further deliberation. I don't believe that to be true. The fact is, I believe the reasons we would do this are noble and not based on some faulty assumption that it will cause our enrollment to grow. I believe that it will be expensive--but at the same time I believe it is an investment worth making. Teacher training will absolutely be critical, and I can assure you will be a component in which we will not cut corners.

So then, why?

Let's consider first what may be at stake if we don't. Schools are very different from when you and I attended. Not only are we teaching students how to read, write, and do math, but we are also giving them a strong background in science, technology, 21st Century Learning. When you and I grew up, we didn't have the world at our fingertips--students of today have that advantage. We are teaching them how to live, interact, and work in a global marketplace. Consider this: Our Board of Directors can now hold a board meeting with members located around the world. And not only can we do this--we have done this. It almost sounds cliche, but we are training young people for jobs that didn't exist ten years ago. Did you know that you can go to UNI and major in Global Supply Chain Management? A job like that certainly didn't exist ten years ago, let alone when you and I were in school.

Granted, the advent of 1:1 computer initiatives in schools is a relatively new phenomenon, and such the research is somewhat incomplete. However, the research that exists is compelling. As one example, the state of Maine has had a comprehensive 1:1 program longer than anyone in the nation. They have found that students have seen significant improvement in statewide writing scores. Other studies suggest that students involved in 1:1 computing score higher on problem solving. How about reading and literacy skills? Indeed, studies show increases in reading skills. Our own empirical research into the benefits of using computer based instruction with kindergarten students shows a correlation in reading scores and the utilization of the Reading Eggs program.

There are additional benefits as well. Student engagement has been shown in increase, behavior is better, student motivation increases, and teacher practices change.

More research needs to be done, but the evidence thus far is that this is a solution that works. The question that remains: Is this right for us? We are trying to figure that out right now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Help us to make the right decision for our students. There are a couple of ways you can share your thought. First, I would encourage you to take our needs assessment survey, which you can find right here. Or, you can respond with your comments to this blog post.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

"What does the Research Say About School One-To-One Computing Initiatives", by Nick Sauers and Scott McLeod. CASTLE brief, 2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Tool Aimed at Attacking Bullying in Hudson Scheduled for Deployment October 31

Guest Post by Dave Lipinski

Keeping students safe is a primary goal of the Hudson Community School District.  In all honesty this has become more of a challenge as technology has advanced.  Once upon a time students had face to face communication and written notes as methods of communication for all things positive and negative.  Use of the telephone was typically limited to positive interactions.

Today school staff, parents and the police are often involved in student to student harassment and bullying that is increasingly electronic and pervasive.  The proliferation of social media and the coinciding eroding social norms regarding behavior that is socially acceptable has made it easier to be mean.

There is no question that schools today are required by the state to attend very closely to matters considered to be in the realm of bullying or harassment.  For years Hudson has provided staff and students alike training in everything from appropriate conflict management to how to report concerns of bullying and harassment.

Unlike something as obvious as vandalism, harassment/bullying is often a much more difficult situation to prove.  There are many factors such as determining the relationships of students involved, intent of actions and pervasiveness of the behavior.  One thing that is for sure and difficult to bring to light is the differences that exist between each situation we become aware of.  Frankly, we can only do something when we know about it and most people think we know more than we do.  Students are not prone to misbehave while a staff member is listening or watching.

In an effort to take advantage of the technology available to us and to do everything we think we can to deter or stop bullying/harassing behavior the school will be implementing a new tool for anyone with credible concerns or information to use.  It is called a Google Form and is basically an electronic method to provide the school with information.  The information provided will be confidential to administrative staff only.  Anonymous forms are not encouraged and may result in being ignored unless critical.  Investigations require speaking with actual people and hence identification is an important aspect of this reporting method.

The link will be “live” on the school website for all grade levels starting October 31.  Students in grades 4-12 will receive information about this method.  Of course it is still preferable for reports to come to a school staff member, however we readily acknowledge that sometimes it is timely and best for information to come when a person is able and ready.

Anyone wishing to learn more about how Hudson works to prevent, investigate and remedy bullying/harassment may contact any school administrator.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Every Day is An Adventure

This week I want to give a shout out to the Hudson Fire Department, Gordy Clarke, and Jeff Dieken for their hard work and putting in all the extra hours yesterday during our accident. For those of you that are wondering exactly how we ended up with a two hour late start, here is a brief synopsis of the days events. 

At approximately 3:30 a.m., the sprinkler system in the Art Room was activated. When this alarm goes off, it automatically triggers a call to the fire department. Upon arriving on the scene, it was discovered that the lid to the kiln was left open. This allowed heat to escape, increasing the temperature of the room. Once the temperature exceeded 155 degree, it triggered the sprinklers and alarm. As a result, we experienced approximately 2 inches of flooding in the art room, the west hallway was impacted, along with Mr. Puls room, and Mrs. Maves room. 

When Mr. Dieken and I arrived on scene it was apparent that we would not be able to start classes on time and I made the decision to call for a two hour delay, keeping my options open and assuming that we would not be able to hold classes that day at all. (Another hats off to Steamatic Cleaning who was on the scene by 6:00 a.m., and had made significant progress by 8:00 a.m.)

At this point, the art room and Mrs. Maves room continue to be out of commission and we anticipate those spaces to be impacted for several more days. 

We have to recognize this for what it was; an accident. Luckily no one was hurt and in the whole scope of things, the damage is pretty minor. We will end up with a cleaning bill, a few repairs to the art room, new carpet in one of the classrooms, and maybe a replacement kiln. The upside here is that the sprinkler system performed exactly as it should have. I shudder at the thought of what may have happened had the sprinkler system not performed. Perhaps that is the best news of all?

In closing, I want you to remember my comments last week in regard to October being National Principals Month:

Or in this case, several hours before the start of the day!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Greatest Job You'll Ever Love

Kind of sounds like that ad we used to see right? If memory serves me correctly, that was a recruiting slogan for the United States Army. In this case I am not playing the role of an army recruiter (I was in the Navy after all, why on earth would I want to do that!), but instead want to talk with you about our building principals. October has been designated as National Principals Month by U.S. Senate Resolution 552 and U.S. House of Representative Resolution 781. I can tell you that it is a very tough, difficult job. Believe me, it really takes passion and love to be a building principal.

I can remember being a youngster in school and looking up to the school principal. There was some mystic there (admittedly), with a bit of respect and admiration. (I can remember a couple of times being a 'client' in the principals office!) I used to think , 'man, that guy has a cool job!' He is the 'boss of the school', in charge of EVERYTHING. That must really be awesome. To have that kind of power! The principal seemed to have all sorts of clout and could make things happen. Who would have known that a few decades later I would have an opportunity to be a principal. If I knew then what I know now...

It is a great job full of rewarding experiences, from providing vision and leadership to their respective faculty and students--to setting the academic tone for the buildings. Among the hardest working of individuals in schools, they are often the least recognized. Why is this? Because that is not why they do it. They do the hard jobs they do because they want to impact change on a large scale. They want to provide opportunities for the children they serve, and they want to advocate for the teachers they supervise.

As I stated above, it is a tough job. Indeed, it takes a very special type of person to to have the courage and talent to lead a school as a building principal. It is not for the faint of heart and takes someone with very thick skin to handle the pressures of the principalship.

There is no typical day, and perhaps that is part of the allure. One never knows from one day to the next what challenges will be faced. A quiet day in the office completing paperwork can be blown up within the first couple minutes of the day starting. (Sidebar: Very rarely is there such a thing as a quite day in the office for the building principal.) Principals do not have typical work days or hours either. Their day starts before 8:00 a.m. and typically lasts well into the evening. While dashing between meetings with parents, handling disciplinary issues, and answering to an ornery superintendent, they may find time to answer some of the email that has begun to pile up in the office. (Sidebar: It is not uncommon for building principals to have email messages in excess of 100 daily.) Often this email will be read, reflected on, and answered in the late hours of the evening when all is quiet around the house.

The job of building principal is confrontational by its very nature. The building principal can expect to be confronted by an angry student, parent, teacher, citizen, or any other category of human being multiple times during the course of the school day. Most of the time, the building principal is in a no win situation. They have to make a decision, and that decision is going to make people angry. Why? Because it isn't fair, they didn't hear all the facts, my child isn't a bully, you are just picking on me, I don't want to teach that grade level/class.

The building principal never really has a day off. Sure, they may have the day off--but we can find you. The superintendent has your cell phone and isn't afraid to call at anytime. You can't really go to the grocery store because the last time you went to the grocery store a parent spotted you and wanted to 'talk'. Sometimes you can't go home, because we know where you live and are completely willing to stop by unannounced if we have something on our mind that we think you need to 'know'. Or we will call...just when you are getting ready to tuck the kids in.

I want to tell you how much I appreciate the work of Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Dieken. These are two of the finest building principals I have ever had the privilege of knowing and working with. I can see the passion they have for the work they do. These individuals are committed, passionate, and hardworking. It is my great honor to work with these talented building leaders. They are up to the challenge and handle the pressures of leading their buildings famously. I encourage you to please thank these gentlemen, for the work they do on behalf of the children entrusted to their care.

And then ask them, "Why do you do it?" I'll bet you are proud of the answer they give.