Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What's THE WORD for 2018-2019?

“Word of the Year.” It’s a phrase normally heard on New Year’s Day. People aspiring to make changes in their lives use a word to keep their focus all year long. So for educators, it’s only fitting to think of this word right before the school year begins.
It began during my first year as superintendent when I was required to attend numerous trainings. One of the trainings had us focus on what our opening day message would be to staff.  Alter much thought, I decided to choose a word of the year and center my message on that word. I had recently finished reading My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen so it seemed to be the perfect fit.  
In my first year (2016,) I chose the word team.  I felt it was important the staff realized the team concept of working together to support the vision of preparing our students.  I wanted everyone to know they were an important component of the team and everyone had a role to play.
Honestly, as I was getting ready for my second year’s opening day message, I was not thinking about centering it on a word.  It wasn’t until a staff member said to me, “I can’t wait to see what our word is this year” for me to think, “ok, let’s do this again”.  
Last year I chose the word positivity, which you can read about in my September 2017 blog post.
So now, I’m here at year three (p.s., time flies.)  I struggled narrowing it down to one word. I had chosen two words before I changed my mind and settled on the word unity.  Unity is defined as the state of being joined as a whole.  Our district had just completed work on a strategic plan and our vision and mission are solid.  It was time to unite everyone around this.
Below are two of my favorite quotes on unity.

We must be unified in our goal of providing a safe and supportive environment for students to learn and grow.  Unity is strength and can provide a marvelous victory for our students if we are all working with the same vision and mission in mind.  
I challenged the staff to think about how their actions can affect all of us.  We are in this together.
I am looking forward to a great year.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Was Your Day?

 The older I get, the faster time seems to fly by.  This has felt like the shortest summer on record and as I write this, tomorrow begins my first day of school for the 24th time as an educator.    

I love the start of the new school year for many reasons, but maybe the best is the feeling of a fresh start.  Summer is an opportunity to reflect on the past year and every August is an opportunity to turn those reflections into something better. 

When I was in the classroom, I was usually exhausted by the end of the day.  However, I had to make the transition from teacher to mom very quickly because as my last student left my own children entered.  They were usually tired too (and hungry), but I’d do my parent duty and ask “How Was Your Day” and they usually muttered, “Fine.”  That was that.

Recently, I found an article on social media titled, 50 Things to Ask Your Kids After School Instead of “How Was Your Day?”  This is copied from and great question stems for parents and guardians to have a better conversation about school.  Try a few out and let me know how it goes.

1.      What made you smile today?
2.      Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed? 
3.      Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
4.      Does everyone have a friend at recess?
5.      What was the book about that your teacher read?
6.      What’s the word of the week?
7.      Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
8.      Did anyone cry?
9.      What did you do that was creative?
10.  What is the most popular game at recess?
11.  What was the best thing that happened today?
12.  Did you help anyone today?
13.  Did you tell anyone “thank you?”
14.  Who did you sit with at lunch?
15.  What made you laugh?
16.  Did you learn something you didn’t understand?
17.  Who inspired you today?
18.  What was the peak and the pit?
20.  Was anyone in your class gone today?
21.  Did you ever feel unsafe?
22.  What is something you heard that surprised you?
23.  What is something you saw that made you think?
24.  Who did you play with today?
25.  Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
26.  What is something that challenged you?
27.  How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
28.  Did you like your lunch?
29.  Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
30.  Did anyone get in trouble today?
31.  How were you brave today?
32.  What questions did you ask at school today?
33.  Tell us your top two things from the day (before you can be excused from the dinner table!). 
34.  What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
35.  What are you reading?
36.  What was the hardest rule to follow today?
37.  Teach me something I don’t know.
38.  If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
39.  (For older kids):  Do you feel prepared for your history test?” or, “Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?” (In my opinion, the key is not only the way a question is phrased, but responding in a supportive way.)
40.  Who did you share your snacks with at lunch?
41.  What made your teacher smile? What made her frown?
42.  What kind of person were you today?
43.  What made you feel happy? 
44.  What made you feel proud?
45.  What made you feel loved?
46.  Did you learn any new words today?
47.  What do you hope to do before school is out for the year?
48.  If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
49.  What is your favorite part of the school building? And least favorite?
50.  If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?

As we begin this school year, I encourage everyone to realize how important their role is in the life of a child. Be involved with what they are learning and doing during their school day. 

I look forward to what this school year will bring! Welcome back, everyone!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Rider’s Up! It’s Going to Be an Exciting Finish

Every year on the first Saturday in May, the “greatest 2 minutes” in sports takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.  I have never been to the derby in person, but hope to one day.  However, each year I am glued to the TV cheering on the horse I draw out of the hat at our family’s event.  This year I drew Instilled Regard the 85-1 odd horse at race time that surprised everyone (even me) that it came in fourth. 

Much is the same in a school district during the month of May.  It is a flurry of activity and we never think we can get it all done, but somehow we finish strong.  Staff is preparing their final lessons and students are completing their final assessments to show the hard work put in throughout the year.

It is hard to believe the school year is quickly approaching its end especially since we had what seemed to be the longest winter on record. However, the sun is shining and the days are warmer and longer.  This can only mean it is time for staff and students to enjoy the well-earned summer break to refresh and rejuvenate.  This break is needed due to the many accomplishments this school year that include:

·         Williamstown High School is ranked 25th best high school in the state by the US       News and World Report.
·         The Williamstown Band of Spirit made it to state finals once again placing third in   Class 1A.
·         Three students have been selected to the Governor’s Scholars Program.
·         Numerous students competed in state competition in FCCLA and FFA.  Several   are moving on to national competition.
·         Students are taking tests to earn their private pilot’s license through the air and space program.
·         Over 40% of juniors and seniors are taking dual credit classes with some students earning over 40 college credit hours.
·         The district has been rewarded several grants totaling over one million dollars.  This includes Striving Readers, Early Childhood, 21st Century, Landscaping, and DURR for an outdoor classroom.
·         Students participated in Service activities throughout the City of Williamstown.
·         ACT scores continue to be above state average.
·         A new weight room was added for student athletes.
·         63 students will be graduating from the Class of 2018 and their Sr. Exit Projects were some of the best presentations to date.
·         Cross Country and Track teams were awarded bids to compete in state.
·         We all survived the legislative session. 

I know it is going to be an exciting finish as we prepare for the awards ceremonies, spelling bees, talent shows, class night and graduation ceremonies.  Rider’s Up!  Let’s do this!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

School Safety

Our children’s safety is always on our mind.  This month, my youngest daughter will be turning 16. As many can imagine, I am already worried about the day she will drive off on her own.  Many things will go through my mind, but I am certain my first thought will be, “Will she return safely?” I know this because I’ve already been through it before.

The school shooting incidents in recent weeks have been tragic, causing many to ask if their children are safe. These unfortunate events cause worry, stress, confusion and anger leading to an unsettled feeling for students, staff, and parents.  Our district takes safety very seriously, which is why we voluntarily participated in a safety audit. Eleven former educators from the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) assessed our safety procedures. 

Students, staff and parents were also interviewed to further evaluate campus safety.
Through participation in this audit, we learned the most effective way to prevent tragedies is to make sure students feel confident in talking with an adult about problems or concerns. Anytime a student hears or sees something disturbing, they must report to an adult- whether it be a parent or school staff member.  In addition, school staff and parents must work together to recognize changes in a student’s attitude or behavior.
The team credited our staff for creating a positive learning environment. However, we need the help of all adults in a child’s life to create a positive atmosphere beyond the walls of the school.

I enjoy using social media, especially when communicating with my college-age daughter living hundreds of miles away.  However, we must also know that social media can be used as a weapon for students to make unwelcome comments to other students. The district will continue to promote proper use of technology, but we need the help of parents and guardians by monitoring social media posts.  It never hurts to take the phone at a spontaneous time to see how smart phones are being used.  

Living in a small, close-knit community can give us all a feeling of comfort -- but we cannot be lax when it comes to school safety. In contrast, we also don’t want to make rash decisions when responding to school tragedies.  Many will conclude the need for metal detectors, conducting book bag checks, or even arming school staff.  Although these seem like quick fixes, we must look at all details to determine effectiveness.  

A school crisis can take a number of forms, including weather emergencies, chemical spills, gas leaks or an intruder in or near the school. The nature of a school crises dictates what we do to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff. We practice many drills with students to be ready in the event of an emergency.  The feedback we received from the safety team will be used to make changes based on the minor recommendations.  

After such tragic events, it is common for people to wonder if their child is safe. Please know we work closely with law enforcement, KCSS and other school districts to provide an environment where our students will be safe.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February is For...

LOVE?  Yes, let’s go with that.  If you are the parent of an elementary school child, you are very aware because your child has most likely talked to you about getting his or her Valentine’s Day necessities.

Taking my girls shopping for their Valentine’s Day parties was always chaotic. They would have to look at every single card and candy selection to find their perfect valentines. One sister would get upset if the other one wanted to have the same cards as her. Then, we would go home to transform an old shoe box into a beautiful Valentine’s Day box and address the cards for each classmate. (Sidenote: cherish these days… they go by so fast!)

            Although it may seem like a Hallmark holiday to us, February 14 is a huge deal for our students. Even our middle and high school students LOVE the holiday as shown by the massive amounts of candy, flowers, and balloons that arrive in the office.  While walking through the hallways on this day (really every day), I am reminded of just how much I LOVE my job and Williamstown Schools. We have the best students and a great staff. 

            I hope you LOVE our schools too.  If so, I ask that you share those sentiments with our legislators.  Public schools are not currently feeling the LOVE with the governor’s proposed budget cuts.  Also, the passage of charter schools and introductions of such bills allowing tax break in return for scholarships to private schools, hurt public education and most importantly the children of our commonwealth.   Public schools educate 90% of the state’s children- now is the time for the legislature as a whole to recognize the value of public education and support students and staff.  I am proud of our work and the work of other districts across our region and state.  Show your support and LOVE for our schools by staying involved and calling the legislator hotline at 1-800-372-7181 when public schools are under attack.

While you enjoy the many exciting moments of this month (especially an Eagles victory in the Super Bowl,) spend these next days cherishing who and what you LOVE. At Williamstown Schools, we get to do that every day.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Resolutions for the New Year

Surrounded by family and friends, watching the ball drop in New York City (from the comforts of my own home) into the New Year has me celebrating the chance to “start over”. The New Year is notorious for people making resolutions and the opportunity to start a new page in life, new chances, new slate. 
My classic resolution is to exercise more and eat healthier. I usually fare well in the first two weeks. I pack a healthy lunch, actually use my treadmill, and cook a healthy dinner. Soon, life starts to get busy again, and my healthy habits seem to drop by the wayside.  
My two daughters have had better luck with their resolutions. Both of them quit drinking soft drinks, and have seen great improvements in their energy and overall health.  I must confess that I have never fulfilled a single resolution to the end.  So I ask myself, “Why do I continue making a resolution year after year knowing I will most likely fail”?
This brings me to a thought,actually a quote, from one of the movies my girls loved to watch when they were younger.  It was A Cinderella Story. A quote central to the plot of the story was “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
Failure is a part of life.  What I need to remember – two weeks after I blow my resolution- is to keep swinging- get back on the wagon- start over-try again. 
In fact, I think it is important to fail.  I absolutely DO NOT enjoy failing, but it makes us into better people. From the tiny fractures to huge letdowns, failure is one of life’s greatest teachers. How we respond helps us build character.
We should all remember Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team. Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination. Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times. Elvis Presley was told he was going nowhere. These individuals failed many times, but they didn’t let the fear of striking out keep them from playing the game. We all know these people eventually becoming successful in their respective careers. 
So this year, my resolution will remain the same- eat healthier, exercise more.  I am playing the game with every hope to succeed because when I fail, and I know I will, I am going to keep swinging.

Happy New Year Everyone!!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Great Gifts for Educators

As Michael BublĂ©, Pentatonix and Nat King Cole begin to flood the radio stations I am reminded Christmas break is just around the corner. If you are like me, it becomes harder and harder each year to find the perfect present for our loved ones. When my children were younger, Santa knew just what to get: a new board game, books, puzzles and their one special request. Now that they are older, Christmas shopping is much less enjoyable. Quite frankly, it’s more pricey and just downright hard.

You may experience this frustration when it comes to buying a Christmas gift for your child’s teacher. After many years of deciding on the perfect gift for my girls’ teachers, I am here to offer you some advice this Christmas season.

1.  Say “Thank you.”
It is easy to forget the influence a teacher has on your child’s life. Our teachers work hard to give your child, and all of their students, a quality education. Writing a thank you note is a wonderful way to show your child’s teacher you appreciate him/her. Use this as an opportunity to teach your child how to thank others.

2.            Chocolate
You’ve seen the Snickers commercial. Enough said.  

3.            Volunteer
It is no secret students perform better and learn more when teachers and parents/guardians work together. Offer to volunteer in the classroom or at after-school activities. However, supporting your teacher begins at home. Be sure to set aside time each day with your child to read, do homework, ask about their day and play.

4.            Ask about your child’s performance
Teachers love seeing how much you care. Knowing your child’s academic and behavioral performance is essential. Ask for recommendations on what you and your student can work on over Christmas break.

And you guessed it…

5.            Gift cards

This is my go-to gift when I am unsure of a teacher’s preferences. Gift cards are a great opportunity to support our community’s restaurants and stores. Here’s a hint: I know many of our teachers now run on Dunkin’.

Finding the perfect gift is difficult-- appreciating a teacher is not.
Take my advice if you are looking for a way to show your gratitude to the people who do so much for your child.

Merry Christmas to the Williamstown Independent Schools family!