Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Chicken or The Egg

Pardon the philosophical reference. I am actually taking a philosophy class as part of my doctoral program and wanted to fit something in to make myself feel better about spending all that money. In any event, I did share on the first night of class that I thought most philosophy was pure drivel and that I was too busy to ponder 'Who I Am'. I don't know if the professor was offended or amused; guess we will find out at the end of the term when grades come out!

So, I stirred the pot last week didn't I! After Director Glass and I threw a few cyber punches at one another, I decided to reach out and get a little more information before starting my next rant. In fact, I told him point blank that I was looking for more information (ammunition) for my next volley into cyberspace. He was happy to oblige. Hey, I gotta give the guy credit--he was willing to engage, at the very least that shows character, and he even gave me credit by assuming that I had a worldwide audience (you know with the whole "mash a button and publish it to the world" comment). Heck, most of the time I feel that I may have an audience of one or two outside of our local newspaper.

Anyway, he sent me a pretty nice note (I can't say that I would have done the same), and answered my questions the best he could before passing me off to Senior Policy Fellow Ryan Wise (I think that is the right title but can't remember for sure. But you have that question don't you? I know you do because I did too...What exactly is a Fellow? Well I had to ask of course and now I know. Unfortunately it doesn't add a lot to the conversation so we will just move on. Trust me though, he is a nice Fellow.)

My questions centered around the proposal to boost the teacher starting wage to $35,000 and implement the career ladders. Mr. Wise shared the costing model and explained in pretty good detail the funding scheme (based on a per pupil allocation) and the number of teachers we would have in each category. According to the model, we would have a sufficient infusion of capital to pull it off. The Department of Education released the model on Monday, and you can take a look at it yourself right here. I really don't think they are too far off base on the statistical model. (Are you wondering if I am going to use the word 'model' again?) However, I do think there is a pretty naive understanding of Chapter 20. I suspect that is part of the reason for the categorical nature of the mechanism-but still don't believe that will remove all those barriers. One must also keep in mind this model isn't expected to go into effect next year (except for a few pilot districts).

The Director points out that when fully implemented, the package will result in $160 Million in new funding. But what is lost in translation is the fact that we are taking 5 years to ramp this up. For next year, it is $14 Million, much less when you consider what actually flows through to local school districts. Furthermore, the new money that we speak of is in the form of categorical funds, meaning they can only be expended on the purposes outlined in the legislation. In this case, the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program. I understand the reasons for this-but categorical funds don't buy fuel for buses, keep the lights on, or purchase the new math curriculum we have been evaluating this year.

The underlying theme that may have been lost in my rant last week was allowable growth. While it may be true that the Department of Education needs to hire additional people to provide technical assistance for districts to implement these programs, I also need to hire people. In the last two years we have had kindergarten classes in excess of 60 students. Last year, we bandaged that together with two teachers. This year we had the same thing. With more bailing twine and duct tape, I was able to provide three teachers for that class, but at the expense of another grade level. Next year is shaping up to be more of the same, but I don't think there is enough bailing twine to fix it this time. If I had a healthy unspent balance, I would recommend hiring a teacher and cash flowing, but our USB (unspent balance) is less than 5.5%. Try explaining these difficult concepts to parents who just don't want their child to get lost in a sea of 30 other students!

The Governor is using the allowable growth discussion as leverage to pass his educational reform. He has been open to discussion allowable growth, or state aide adjustment as he wants to call it now, (frankly I don't care what they call it) but only after he passes education reform. The fear, and I would suspect a lot of my colleagues have, is that this education reform package will get rammed through and then we would be left with mere bread crumbs (1-2%). With hat in hand we would say, "But that is not enough", to which the inevitable reply would be, "What do you mean that's not enough. We just passed a reform bill of $160 Million. Of course it's enough! Now quit your whining and go improve test scores" (boot to the backside as superintendents exit stage left.)

So what should we do? Ah, I am glad you ask. I propose we do both the chicken (allowable growth) and the egg (education reform) simultaneously. Heck I even told Mr. Wise if we can get all this done with 4% allowable growth I would shine his shoes and take him out to dinner. I'll even let the Director tag along. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Education Reform 2013: The Sequel

I have read the Governor's proposed legislation very carefully, twice now (all 65 pages of it). I still don't quite understand. Perhaps someone out there can help me? I truly don't mean to be sarcastic or flip (well, mostly not), but I truly don't understand. You can find a copy at this link, so please read it and let me know what you think. If I have misread or misinterpreted something please let me know.

First some basics. The Governor is proposing an education reform package that when fully implemented will be a $187 Million allocation. For the next fiscal year he proposes a whopping $14 Million in new appropriations for K-12 education. The bill is broken down into five divisions, so let's take a few moments to examine these divisions, shall we?

Division 1-Online Learning Initiative-Fees and Appropriations

This portion of the bill expands opportunities for students to participate in online courses. In this case they are managed by the Department of Education. Unlike the online schools that we battled last year, this holds some promise and could be beneficial to rural school districts who are unable to provide upper level or some specialty courses. There does not appear to be an open enrollment [provision] of students to another school district (this is where part of the opposition occurred last year). It provides resident pupils (and districts) the ability to serve students in their home school using a blended format when other models may not be available or cost effective. The Department of Education will administer the courses and bill local school districts at a rate that is undetermined.

Here is where it gets a little weird for me. The Governor proposes allocating money for this to the Department of Education in the following amounts, and proposes adding 3 new positions to the Department (see page 1, subsection 9, lines 20-33).
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$1,500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$1,500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2015-$1,500,000
Interesting, right?

Division 2-Training and Employment of Teachers

Okay, so the first idea here is to do a better job of recruiting young people to consider teaching as a career. There is a call for marketing and a public outreach initiative by January of 2014. Line 3 (page 2) of this section tells us that it is subject to an appropriation of sufficient funds by the general assembly. On page 6, line 8 we learn that there is an appropriation of $1,000,000 to the Department of education to develop this program. Oh, and hire 3 people. 

Then we get into this online state education job posting system that the Department of Education is going to administer and require all school districts to post job openings on. This idea was floated last year and was a dumb idea then too. We already have online job posting sites. Most school districts in the state subscribe to Iowa Reap (which has a nationwide reach), so this seems like a duplication of service. No wait, I take that back. It doesn't seem like a duplication of services, it is a duplication of services. Furthermore, I can attest to the fact that superintendents aren't sitting around thinking "Gee, if only there were an online state posting system where we could post our jobs with DE oversight! Not only will it require me to do the same thing twice, but it won't serve any useful purpose! Where can I sign up now?"

The section also includes what is referred to as a "Teach Iowa Scholar Program" whereas students entering the teaching profession that meet certain criteria can receive a $4,000 grant. The grant is pursuant to these students becoming teachers and agreeing to work in an Iowa school. It looks like they can receive a maximum amount of $20,000 over five years. Subsection 6 (page 4 lines 17-22) indicates that money will be appropriated to the Department of Education, but it doesn't say how much. This looks an awful lot like an unfunded mandate to me, but doesn't appear to be a local school district obligation?

A proposal is also included to pilot a year long student teaching experience. This is actually an interesting proposal I would like to hear more about! However, I imagine this would significantly alter teacher preparation programs in our colleges and universities, and I am not sure it would all be for the better. On this one, I better defer further comment to my colleagues who administer these programs. And in case you are wondering, on page 6 lines 15 and 16 we learn there is an appropriation of $2,000,000 to the Department of Education. Oh yeah, and hire 2 people. 

Division 3-Iowa Promise Diploma Seal Program

The first thing that jumps out at me in this section can be found on page 7, lines 27-32.  In this section, it states that the district wide assessments that are used must be the same ones that were used statewide on July 1, 2011, and that the successor assessment must be by the same assessment provider. So let me get this straight, and someone please help me here in case I have it wrong. Does this effectively mean that any test that is adopted needs to be administered by Iowa Testing Programs? So...uh, if I read that right I kind of have a problem.

The next several pages describe the diploma seal program, which is described in the subheading of this column. This, I actually do kind of like and think it could be a good thing for our students. Basically what we are talking about here is putting a seal on high school diplomas of students who have demonstrated they are career or college ready. But again on page 13 (line 35) and page 14 (line 1) we learn that there is another appropriation to the Department of Education to develop the program at a cost of $4,000,000. Oh yeah, and hire 3 people.

Division 4-Teacher and Administrator Development System

This section of the bill outlines and describes proposed changes to the evaluation systems that are currently in place in school districts across Iowa. For more information about the current system of evaluation I would encourage you to take a look at my blog from last week. An important note about this section. Iowa applied for and was denied a waiver from NCLB sanctions last year due largely to issues with our evaluation system. A component that includes student achievement data as part of the evaluation process will likely be necessary if Iowa hopes to get relief from NCLB sanctions. Oh yes, page 21 lines 8 and 9 describe the appropriations, again to the Department of Education:
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$500,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$3,500,000
And they can hire 3 people.

Division 5-Iowa Teacher Career and Compensation Matters

There has been a lot of discussion about the work of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force that recently made recommendations to implement a career pathways ladder of compensation for teachers. This section outlines (in broad strokes) the way this would work. The first several pages discuss a funding mechanism that designates money (as a categorical funding stream) for an appropriation titled "teacher leadership supplemental district cost". As a categorical funding stream, the legislation indicates that the money may only be used for the purposes of implementing this model. Several pages are devoted to explaining the calculation methodology that is proposed. A three year ramp up of funding is proposed with allocations as follows (see page 33, lines 16-26):
  • FY beginning July 1, 2013-$5,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2014-$50,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2015-$50,000,000
  • FY beginning July 1, 2016-$50,000,000
  • FT beginning July 1, 2017-$1,500,000
The majority of this money is proposed as state aide to school districts, although it does provide the Department of Education to, yep you guessed it right, hire more people! (page 34, lines 17-20)

Interestingly, on page 37 lines 12 and 13 the legislation boldly proclaims the new minimum salary for beginning teachers to be $35,000. This is great and I support this, but there is no appropriation included.  The allocation previously mentioned above is for the implementation of the career ladders, so-how are we going to make that work. (We are going to talk allowable growth next week.) A sidebar here: there has been no discussion of the ripple effect a boost of $35,000 (on the base pay) will have to the salary schedule.

Now the new, or initial teacher is only going to be responsible for 75% student instruction because the other 25% of the time will be spent for observation and leaning. They will also have a contract that is 5 days longer than career teachers. (page 37, lines 24-30)

The district is also required to designate at least 10% of its teachers as model teachers (page 38, line 21), after meeting the prescribed requirements outlined in the bill that include a "rigorous review process". These folks will receive a minimum of a $2,000 stipend and an additional 5 days on their contract. (page 38, lines 26-31)

Mentor teachers are described in this section as those who, again are subject to review and other criteria (and an identified 10% of the teaching force). These teachers will also have a 75% teaching load, with 25% of their time devoted to mentoring other teachers (page 39, lines 7-10). In this model, the teacher contract is extended by 10 days with a salary stipend of at least $5,000. (page 39, line 20)

Finally we talk about the lead teacher. Again, after being recommended and meeting the prescribed requirements, they have a teaching load of 50%. The other 50% of the time is spent in a variety of teacher leadership assignments, too numerous to mention here. Each school district must designate 5% of teachers as leads, and have their contract extended to 15 days. The lead teacher is eligible for a stipend of up to $10,000. (page 39, lines 34-35; page 40 lines 14-16)

Teachers not described above are referred to as career teachers and thus have no additional stipends. Each role described above is considered a one year assignment and the legislation provides for checks and balances for ensuring high caliber teachers are assigned these roles. My only other question at this point is: What do we do with the students when these teachers are doing other things? Larger class sizes?

In Summary

I have focused mainly on appropriations for the fiscal year set to begin on July 1, 2013. In cases where it helped to clarify a point or provide additional relevant 'color' to the discussion, appropriations for future years were included. If you kept a tally of appropriations on a sticky note as you read this, you hopefully came up with the same figure that I did: $14 Million. 

What I find peculiar about these appropriations is that $9 Million of this appropriation is tied directly to the Department of Education for the development of programs and process that will be implemented in future years. The remaining $5,000,000 is allocated for pilot studies for districts to implement the career ladders, although it appears that approximately 20% of this allocation can be maintained by the Department for administration. 

In addition, if you have been tallying along with me, you hopefully found it interesting that with each of the allocations to the Department, it included the addition of personnel. By my calculations, if passed the bill would permit the Department to hire a bunch of new staff. Enough in fact to staff a medium sized elementary school!

This is what I see when I read the legislation, and perhaps I am missing something. If that is the case, I implore you to let me know. Hopefully that is the case! Think about it for a second. We are living in an era where there is a steady drumbeat of calls to shrink the size of our government. In the same breath, we yearn for local control-because as the saying goes 'all politics are local'. But here we go with a proposal that expands a government agency, and in some cases increases government oversight. Is that what we want?

Now for my final thought, because I know this is long and appreciate the fact that you have stuck with me this long. Right now we have no allowable growth. Certainly you have been reading the newspapers and watching the news. School districts are going to start making preparations to lay staff off because we don't know what our budget situation is right now. So if this bill becomes law and our funding issue isn't resolved, we will be letting people go.

Maybe that is okay. From the looks of it the Department of Education is going to be hiring.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Trouble With Iowa's 'F'

I was sitting in my office last Monday when I got a call from KWWL wanting to know if I would be willing to talk with them about the report card that had been released that day from Students First.  For those of you that aren't familiar, they gave Iowa an 'F'. I would like to take a bit more time and go into greater detail about what this 'F' really means. First, I think the Courier got it right when they made the comment "This grading of states seems to be based simply on how closely they follow Students First's own platform." I Agree.

It is worth pointing out that the highest grades (B-) were given to only two states: Florida and Louisiana. Seven states were given a grade of 'C'. The balance of the states were given either a 'D' or 'F'. Eleven (or more than 20%, were given an 'F'). Don't take my word for it, you can check it out yourself right here. The report card grades each state in three categories: elevate teaching (F), empower parents (F), and spend wisely and govern well (C-).

In the first category, 'Elevate Teaching' one of the main arguments made for the 'F' grade had to do with the fact that Iowa doesn't link teacher evaluation to student achievement. They strengthen their argument by stating that teacher layoff is driven by seniority rather than performance. The document goes on to make the following statement, "Unfortunately, Iowa does not substantially assess educators." At first blush, it may appear that teachers and administrators fear accountability. We can argue about the mechanics of teacher evaluations, and I concede that student achievement is not part of the evaluation. Heck, I will even say that it should be part of the evaluation. In fact if you ask teachers, most would tell you that they are not afraid of accountability for student achievement. But while may be true that Iowa does not substantially assess educators, it is also true that Iowa does not substantially assess students.

Let's do a brief comparison. A teacher completes a formal comprehensive evaluation every three years. During that formal comprehensive evaluation teachers must demonstrate competency in eight teaching standards that include forty-seven criteria. It is important to note that the teacher demonstrates this competency not by completing a standardized test, but by presenting a body of evidence. Additionally there is an observation component where the principal completes an in depth analysis of the teacher in the classroom. Some people express concern that this process only happens every three years and assume that in years one and two there is no supervision of teachers. That could not be further from the truth! During those two 'off cycle' years, the teacher is subject to numerous drop in visits from the building principal and is continually receiving feedback and coaching from the principal. When the process works well, during the comprehensive evaluation the teacher and building principal identify an area that could use strengthening in relationship to one of the eight standards. This provides an opportunity for the teacher and principal to develop a career plan with the goal of increasing competency and knowledge in that area. Also during the years where the teacher is 'off cycle', they (with the assistance of the building principal) are expected to write annual improvement goals. Teachers and principals meet multiple times during the school year to monitor progress toward the goal. The principal (working is a supervisory role) provides assistance, coaching, and resources as necessary. When a teacher isn't meeting the expectations, the principal can immediately place them on a plan of assistance and intervention. For the purposes of this article I am not going to explain how this works because it is quite a lengthy process.

How do we assess students? They take a standardized test with a number two pencil once a year. In this test they are asked to answer a series of questions under a specified time limit. Most of the questions do not assess critical thinking skills, but in fact ask students to simply recall information that is accessible in about twenty seconds with our digital assistant 'Siri'. If the student isn't feeling well that day, missed breakfast that morning (or even supper the night before), was up late, stayed out too long playing, or no one was around to make sure they got homework done so they were properly prepared to regurgitate the material, it is going to have a significant impact on their ability to regurgitate the information with their number two pencil in the allotted time. I know, you think that certainly those circumstances are rare-but that is where you are wrong. We have a metric that proves otherwise.

Are there places where we could make improvements to the teacher evaluation system? Sure there are, we always have room for improvement. But even more important,  I think we need to make improvements to the student evaluation system.

In the category 'Empower Parents', the state also received very low marks. The centerpiece of this argument calls for an expansion of Iowa charter school laws and to give parents the option of moving their students from 'failing schools' to charter or private schools. As I see it there are a couple of problems with this proposal. First, we need to identify failing schools. How do we do that currently? See my points above about student achievement!

There also seems to be some sort of fantasy that charter or private schools are somehow better than the local public school. Charter and private schools typically do not have the same regulatory restrictions that traditional public schools have and will promote innovative practices. So my point is simple. If the purpose of the charter school is to remove restriction and promote innovate practices, why not just grant that autonomy to the local school district? It would seem then, that the real problem is with the regulatory oversight of the state and many of the cumbersome restrictions that are placed on districts.

Certainly you cannot make the argument that teachers in the charter or private school are any better than those in the local public school. Unless there is some sort of super secret university teacher preparation program out there that I don't know about, all of our teachers in Iowa basically come from the same place. My point simply is that regardless of whether or not you teach in Hudson, Waterloo, a private or charter school: we all get our teachers from the same place.

But yet when we use the measuring stick that we have all grown accustomed to, the standardized test, often times it appears on the surface that the charters and private schools perform better than the traditional public school. Here is where the argument falls completely apart: when you look at the sub-group data. Look folks, most of you probably know this already, but I spent fifteen years in the private school system, which was a wonderful experience that I will always treasure. Each year we would have very high student achievement scores on these tests and proudly puff out our chests at how well we did. What was left out of that data in most cases was subgroup data, subgroups that were so small that they have a negligible impact on overall achievement. At my assignment before coming to Hudson, we had a FRL (free and reduced lunch rate) of 6% or less. At Hudson, we have a FRL of almost 21%! Does this matter? Absolutely this matters! If you don't believe me, take a look at those subgroups. Another place where this matters is when you look at students served by IEP (Individualized Educational Plan-used for students served in special education). At most privates (at least the one that I served), we did not serve students who were served by educational IEPs. This is through no fault of these schools, they simply do not have the financial resources necessary to administer these programs. Look at what Iowa City Schools are attempting now: they are trying to equalize their subgroups across the district because they know it matters.

Ironically Iowa received its highest mark on the report card in the area of 'spend wisely and govern well'. If not spending at all is a good practice, then okay I get it. Here is the reality. There has been virtually no negligible investment in Iowa education since I became a superintendent. We have either seen education funding cut, no budget growth, or proposals to repurpose funding streams from existing effective programs that will result in larger class sizes. We talk loudly about the need to reform education in Iowa and then recommend funding packages that are laughable.

Well, I got kind of long winded this week. Sorry about that! If you stayed with me all the way to the end, thanks for hanging in there. Next week we are going to start taking a look at the Governor's education plan that was unveiled at the beginning of the General Assembly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Now I Remember!

Well here we are, hopefully all rested up and ready to go. Our teachers returned to the district on January 2nd and the students returned for semester tests on January 3rd. Second semester has started and we are getting in the groove again. From now until spring break, we are pretty much buckled in and holding on tight! There isn't a holiday or other break in sight for quite some time. I hope that you aren't getting depressed by reading this, I'm just stating the facts. On a positive note teachers will probably tell you this is time of the year when we see the greatest gains in student achievement. Many of our students will go through nice growth spurts. I tend to agree with that analogy! Anyway, I was going on and on about how we are in for a long ride the next couple of months. Its cold, dark, and for the most part we are all cooped up with one another. I suppose logic would suggest this is why a lot of learning takes place. After all what else is there to do?

Last week at our administrative meeting I mentioned all of this to the principals. As is always the case this time of year, we are getting ready to make a lot of decisions. Scheduling, staffing, negotiating the contract, and just general planning for the next school year are at the top the list. Teachers are also busy getting ready to administer the Iowa Assessments, and the legislature will be in session in a few weeks (when the legislature is in session I spend a lot of time wondering what kind of crazy 'thing' we going to have done to us this time). This year we have the added pressure of a state accreditation visit, so there are extra items on the to do list. With all of this stuff going on, it is pretty easy to get stressed out, and maybe catch a case of cabin fever. I reminded my principals to make sure they keep everything in perspective and to take it one day at a time.

To help combat the winter blues, I try really hard to get out into the district to see people, visit classrooms, chat with teachers, ask students what they are learning about, you know, the normal things. The trouble is that it has just been too cold to do much of that, and besides right now there is just too much to get done. The last week I have been chained to my desk and haven't had a lot of time to do much of anything except file reports, answer email, and get ready for my next meeting. A couple of times [before I even realized it], it was 5:30 and I still wasn't where I needed to be for the day. So, I would pack up my stuff and head for home, continuing my work into the night or on the weekend. With it being dark and cold with so many projects that need attention, it is pretty easy to lose site of what the purpose of our work is, and who we are working for. 

I got a great reminder last Friday morning. Let me tell you what happened. Every day about mid morning, my secretary brings in my mail and drops it in my inbox. Throughout the day, she will bring in a variety of items that need my attention; from purchase orders to letters that need to be signed. No matter what it is, it goes in that box. Some of it is important, some of it is not. If it is something that is time sensitive it will get handed to me or put next to my desk. So the inbox will just sit there until I get time to look through it sometime during the day. On Friday I noticed a manila envelope in my box, you know the kind I am talking about, right? The kind that you put papers in that you don't want to fold. It was kind of buried in there, so at first I didn't pay it a whole lot of attention. I thought that it may be from the AEA, which definitely would be something that could wait! (If my good friend Roark is reading this, sorry about that!) But on my way to the outer office for something, I happened to glance at that envelope and noticed the writing on the outside looked like it may have been written by a child. Out of curiosity more than anything else at this point, I picked it up and looked at it. Yep, it was from a child. 

It just so happened this child is a former student from my days as an elementary principal. This young person is now in about 5th grade, which means when I left my previous position he was just finishing the 2nd grade. This youngster also attended preschool at my school, and one of his parents was on staff, so over the course of my tenure I got to know him quite well. As is often the case with small children, they really don't seem to understand what it is that a principal does and live most of their lives in fear of getting sent to the office 'where bad things happen and your parents get called'. Not this guy though! He would come right up to me whether I was in the hallway, in the classroom, my office, or on my way to a meeting. Sometimes it would be kind of tough to peel myself away to get on with what I needed to do next. And as is sometimes the case, he would end up 'a client' in my office for whatever malfeasance or infraction may have been committed on the playground, classroom, or hallway. I remember him being so upset sometimes! But afterward (sometimes within five minutes of the scolding), there he would be--wanting to chat me up again. Oh, and how bright and interesting this kid is! He knows many interesting things and is able to hold a conversation like you wouldn't believe. I remember asking him once how he knew [that]. He told me that he learned it on the Internet. (When I had the Internet hooked up in his classroom I could count on finding him there everyday after school looking up Greek Mythology, the solar system, or something to do with science--every single night).

Anyway I am sure you get the point, so back to that envelope. I opened it up and pulled out a thick packet of paper and a letter from him. This is a little bit of what it said:
Dear Mr. Voss,
You would always let me talk about my interests in your office. Thank  you so much. I wanted to share my first article with you. I started reading H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds". It is awesome! I decided to write about Mars and the rover Curiosity. I won honorable mention and $50.00. Cool!
He went on with a couple of other items, included a copy of his published article and a Christmas card with a few pictures. Also included was a copy of their family Christmas letter. I tell you what, I couldn't wait to get home that night so I could share it with my wife and read everything in detail. I got home and as is always the case Ann would ask "How was your day today?" When I told her "Awesome," I am pretty sure she thought I was going to tell her that I got a major report finished or figured out how to solve some problem that we were having in the district. When I told her about the letter she smiled and said that was pretty neat. 

Here's the point. Yes, it is cold, dark, and we are all cooped up together--longing for spring break. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the details of our work and lose sight of why we are here and what is really important. You never really know how, or under what circumstances you are going to make a connection with a student that is not only going to have a profound impact on their lives, but yours as well. 

Now I remember. I have a ton of work to do yet today-but first I think a young student in 5th grade is waiting for a letter from me.