Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What We Measure in Our Students

Fall is the time we eagerly welcome back crisp air, comfy sweaters, and pumpkin-spice everything. This is also the time when districts receive their assessment scores from the previous school year. Teachers and administrators excitedly yet anxiously study the data, hoping the results show the tremendous efforts made by their students.
As a former teacher, I remember this time well. Although I could rest in the fact that I did my best each day, I was a nervous wreck when the scores hit my hands. I took each score personally. I celebrated when students did well and cringed when I knew some could do better.
High stakes accountability is the conventional structure of education. Each day, I taught my students skills that were essential to do well on and off the assessment. When my students scored high on their state tests, I felt like I just won the Super Bowl. I scrutinized the scores to determine if I was an effective teacher. The Kentucky Department of Education analyzed the results to see if the school met high quality standards. Now that I have been removed from the classroom for several years, my new experiences as an administrator have allowed me to gain a different perspective.
Test scores are important indicators of academic achievement. By measuring our students’ abilities in the core subjects of English, mathematics, reading, science, and writing, we as administrators and teachers can understand what our students have learned.
But standardized tests are just that-- standard. There are things scores don’t show.  For example, it doesn’t show the commitment of a teacher attending a student’s basketball game because they asked themto be there. The scores don’t evaluate how many times a student reached out to a counselor because of issues at home. The scores don’t take into account the number of times a teacher worked with a driven student on a math problem or English paper. These assessments don’t measure musical or artistic abilities gained by being a part of a student organization. Lastly, test scores don’t measure the leadership and citizenship that is essential to flourish both in and out of the classroom. These test scores show a snapshot of students’ academic knowledge measured in one week.
Accountability is a wonderful and necessary component in any environment. Everyone needs to be held accountable to the words they say and the work they produce. As the superintendent, I hold myself and all of our staff members accountable to do their jobs in the best interest of students. Our teachers are accountable for student learning and outcomes. Our students are accountable for their learning and outcomes.
However, there is great difficulty in maintaining accountability among districts across the state. The 172 districts in Kentucky range in various sizes, regions, and affluence.
It is important to look past the printed scores and experience everything that is taking place in schools. Teachers are instructing students with valuable knowledge that will prepare them for the next grade level and life outside of school. Students are experiencing hands-on education and therefore apply learned concepts to real life situations. They are using technology to discover creative alternatives to traditional approaches. They are involved in extracurricular activities that will teach them to communicate well with team members.
When you truly look within a school district, you will see so much more than a number-- you will see determination, encouragement, learning, opportunities, success, challenge, and love. When you analyze your student’s test score, remember to focus on the individual and not the standard. At Williamstown Schools, we believe each student has the potential to succeed; I hope you view your student in the same way.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Power of Positivity

“Being positive won’t guarantee you will succeed, but being negative will guarantee you won’t.” -Jon Gordon’s The Energy Bus
            When I became superintendent, I decided to choose a word of the year that our staff and I could work towards every day. Last year, I chose the word “team.” During the excitement, challenges, worries, and success of the past year, our staff remained a unified team through it all. During the summer, I had a difficult time deciding on this year’s word until I attended the annual Kentucky Association of School Administrators’ Conference. 
            At the conference, I had the opportunity to hear author and keynote speaker Jon Gordon. Jon Gordon is well known for his books about leadership, culture, sales, and teamwork. Several years ago, I read his book The Energy Bus. As I sat in the conference center listening to Jon and remembering his book, I knew exactly what the word of the year would be: positivity.
In The Energy Bus, Jon describes the need for positive energy in every aspect of life. He defines positive energy as the optimism, trust, enthusiasm, love, purpose, joy, and passion to perform at a higher level. Positivity is the ability to overcome adversity, negative people, and negative situations that threaten to sabotage health, family, team, and success.  
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. During chemotherapy, I had times where I was thinking negatively. I soon realized to look at what I did have. I was blessed with a supportive and caring family, the best doctors, nurses, and hospitals for treatments and surgery, and a work environment that rallied around me. It did not take long to realize there were many more individuals dealing with more difficult situations. There were mothers and fathers who were watching their child fight cancer; others were being diagnosed for a second and third time. Once I changed my mindset, my life became better.
Our world is in desperate need for more positivity. Positivity begins with one attitude and action at a time. Take inventory of your life and appreciate the amazing things that are around you. One of Twitter’s trending hashtags is #BePositiveIn4Words. My hashtags would be #ILoveMyFamily and #MyJobIsAwesome. What would your hashtag be?

            If you want to begin the journey to a more positive life, I encourage you to pick up your copy of The Energy Bus. Not only will you feel better, achieve more, and motivate others, you will better the world through the power of positivity.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Back to School 2017

It’s exciting, yet hard to believe, that in a week our schools will be filled with students and staff ready to begin the 2017-2018 school year.  I feel the same excitement today as I did when I was a student. I always went to Value City with my mom to pick out the outfit I would wear on the first day of school. I looked forward to picking out a new trapper keeper to keep all of my schoolwork organized. After months of anticipation, the school bus finally came around the corner of Violet Road and I couldn’t help the smile that came across my face. I stepped on the bus and immediately said hello to my friends that I didn’t see all summer (remember… we didn’t have social media!) While I was eager to get into the classroom, I was also ready to defend my title as gym class “Around the World” champion! Even though it has been a few years since I was a student, to this day I still have memories of classmates, teachers, and faculty that I will cherish forever.
The positive impact that my school made on me was the reason I decided to pursue a career in education. I can still recall all of my teachers from elementary to high school. Mostly I have fond memories of the teachers , but I do remember some for different reasons, but in the end, they all shaped me into the educator I am today. For instance, my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Beach, taught me how to write in cursive. I went home from school that year and every blank sheet of paper I could find was used to practice writing my name in cursive. Mr. Bayes, my middle school basketball coach and science teacher, gave me a love for science that I carried over into my years of teaching elementary science. He also gave me some pointers about my shot (follow through) and the importance of being a team player. My AP English teacher, Ms. Lillard, taught me how to write collegiate papers. Her resourceful and creative teaching style carried over to me when I taught 3rd and 4th grade writing.
However, I remember more than just the teachers. My bus drivers, Ms. Doane and Ms. Gibson, always greeted me with a smile and got me where I needed to be safely. Pops, my elementary custodian, was always available for hugs and encouragement. Ms. Clifton always had time for a quick chat while I was grabbing my food in the high school lunchroom. The list of the names, faces, and stories could go on forever.
Lastly, my school career wouldn’t have been as meaningful without the support of my parents. After a long day of work, my parents always made time to help me with my homework, talk to me about my day, and support me in all of my extra curricular activities. However, when my parents had their hands tied, my village of supporters always lent a hand.
As we begin this school year, I encourage everyone to realize how important their role is in the life of a child. As we begin the school year with new books, pencils, and binders, let’s also have a refreshed awareness of adults’ roles in education.  Whether you are a parent, teacher, custodian, food service employee, secretary, administrator, coach, etc. you play an important role in determining if our students have a positive school year.  They are watching and they will remember.  For what do you want to be remembered?
 I look forward to what this school year will bring! Welcome back, everyone!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summer Break?

Graduation is complete, awards for the year have been given, and the hallways are no longer filled with the hustle and bustle of students.  Summer Break is here!  While our students welcome this (usually just the first week until they get bored) it’s a very busy time for many staff members in the school.

Custodians are already hard at work preparing for the start of the 2017-2018 school year.  They will have everything looking shiny and new when students return.  The summer is also a very busy time for our secretarial staff and finance officer as they are busy getting everything ready for the annual audit and closing out the fiscal year and beginning another.   Principals and administrative staff are completing end of year reports, hiring staff, and getting materials ready for the new school year.

Also during summer break, we will see many of our teachers collaborating on lesson plans, teaching summer school, and organizing classrooms.  They are also involved in many of our transition events and summer activities taking place this summer.  These include:

  • Me and My School for applicable students will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays for 6 weeks throughout the year. 
  • Lil’ Demon Days for incoming Kindergarten students will be held on June 21st from 9-11, July 19th from 9-11, and August 8th from 9-2. 
  •  Boot Camp for incoming 6th graders on August 10th from 9-2.
  • Freshman Orientation on August 14th from 9-12. 

As you can see, summer is a busy time in a school district. Many staff work hard to ensure students have a positive experience when they return. 

I’ll end this blog by admitting summer isn’t ALL work.  We do enjoy SOME time off.  In fact, I am looking forward to my annual beach vacation with my family.  However, after that, it is back to the grind!

I wish everyone a great summer! 

Friday, May 5, 2017

May in Kentucky is a Special Time

May in Kentucky is a Special Time
May is a special time in Kentucky.  The “greatest 2 minutes” in sports takes place the first Saturday every year.  I am sad to say that I have never been to the Kentucky Derby, but it is something I wish to do one day. 

May is also a super busy (hence the lateness of this blog) and special time for anyone working in schools.  It is hard to believe we are once again preparing for the end of another school year.  The older I get, the faster the years are going.  As I reflect on this school year, one word comes to mind-Fortunate. I consider myself extremely fortunate for the opportunity to serve in the community I love- surrounded by the most amazing staff and students.  What a pleasure it is to be at “work” each day. 

As the owners, jockeys, and horses are preparing for their big event on May 6th our teachers and students are also preparing for end of year assessments during the week of May 8th.  This time of year can be stressful, as a year’s worth of work will be judged on a 5-day testing window.  For this reason, I want to take time in this blog to share just some of the accomplishments that took place in our district this year.    

  •  The district received re-accreditation by AdvancED.
  •  The district was recognized as a Proficient School District
  • Williamstown High School is ranked 25th best high school in the state and 2066th in the nation by US News and World Report earning a silver medal. 
  • The Band of Spirit has been in the KMEA state finals since 2001 and has won the Governor’s Cup 6 times.  This year they were runner-up with their show titled, Reach.
  •  Williamstown Elementary’s Academic Team won the District Governor’s Cup.
  • The Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team earned a spot at the regional tournament for the first time in 17 years
  • The Girls’ Varsity Softball Team Won the 8th Region “ALL-A” and advanced to the state tournament.
  • The Williamstown Elementary Travel Basketball Teams had 2 championship winning teams.
  • There were numerous Chorus and Select Band Recognitions with students receiving Distinguished Ratings.
  •  We have students attending Gatton Academy and the Governor’s Scholars Program.
  • The WHS FCCLA chapter had STAR Events State Winners who will now be competing at the national level.
  • The Williamstown FFA club individuals advance to compete at state events.
  •  Ms. Vicki Brownfield, retired teacher, won the Excellence in Education Award for our county and Ms. Deana Cummins earned a Golden Apple Award for Northern Kentucky Educators.

May in Kentucky is special.  Our state rolls out the red carpet for the whole world to see and our district gets to end the year celebrating the achievements of our students and staff. 
How fortunate I am to see all of this unfold throughout the year! 

I wish everyone a restful summer!  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

It’s April... and this is a Hodgepodge Blog

It’s April... and this is a Hodgepodge Blog

The calendar says April, which means several things.  First up is April Fool’s Day.  As an educator, I rejoice that this year the “holiday” falls on a Saturday. Even though I remember being young and so excited to trick my parents, sister, and friends I am excited our students will be plotting their pranks this year at home.  I read a book to some of our elementary students titled, April Fool! Watch Out at School! and enjoyed their excitement as they discussed their plans to fool others, which is why I reiterate, “Thank goodness this takes place on the weekend”. 

Two of my favorite events takes place in April.  One is The Master’s golf tournament.  I hope to set foot on Augusta National one day.  I am a golfer, which is probably why I enjoy it, but I REALLY enjoy it… like “Don’t speak to me on Sunday during the tournament” enjoy it.  Perhaps it’s because it is one of those events that is all about tradition.  It is special.  Honestly, it reminds me of our district and all the special events and traditions that will soon be happening on our campus as we wrap up the school year. 

My second favorite event is the Exit Project Presentations by our senior class.  Every April, our senior class students, as a requirement for graduation, must give a presentation about any topic of their choice.  This is an exceptional time for students to receive one on one time to reflect on their years as a student and discuss plans for their future.  It’s hard to give a description that gives it due justice, It is just one of those special events (The seniors don’t usually agree with that statement until their presentation is over). 

Okay, so maybe I have three favorite things that happen in April because spring break is just around the corner. Research suggests the brain does need some down time and I hope that during this time off our students and staff take get some much deserved down time.  I have a little R and R planned and know it will be just what is needed to come back and finish the school year strong. 

Speaking of finishing the school year, as I write this there are only 32 days of school left.  WHAT?  I guess it is true what they say, “Time flies when you are having fun”.  As I reflect on my first year as Superintendent, I can say with certainty that I have made mistakes, learned a ton, and had a ball.  The work is challenging, yet so rewarding.  I honestly work with the best staff and students. 

My birthday is also in April.  I am not a big fan of turning another year older, but I am so appreciative of another year spent with family, friends, colleagues, and students.  

If you have endured this Hodgepodge of a blog, bless you.  My mind is racing with a million things and I have found it difficult to focus. I plan to clear the mind over spring break, so perhaps the May blog will be a bit more put together. One can hope!! 

I wish you the happiest of Aprils!    

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Early Years

The Early Years

This past year I sent my oldest daughter, Carly, off to college. It was a bittersweet moment.  It does not seem that long ago that I was rocking her to sleep, watching Barney videos with her, and taking her to school for her first day.  As I think about our district gearing up for the annual March event of registering students for Kindergarten, I am reminded of the day I took Carly for her registration event.  As they took her back to be “tested”, I waited anxiously for the results.  I imagine I am not the only parent who has had these thoughts, which is why I want to focus this blog on the importance of the early years and the impact parents and caregivers have on helping students start school ready to learn.

Parents want their child to be prepared and not behind.  Currently, in Kentucky, only 50% of students begin kindergarten ready to learn. Parents are their child’s first teacher because as soon as babies are born they are immediately eager learners.  In fact, during the first three years of life, the brain grows at an amazing rate and forms connections.  By the time a child reaches age 3, the brain has already grown 80% of its adult size and has formed about 1000 trillion connections.  These connections are critical to a child’s healthy growth and development. 

Parents provide the building blocks children need to thrive, but they must be intentional.  Activities such as talking, reading, and singing lead to positive brain building. Additionally, relationships that are nurturing help their brains grow best.  Negative experiences, such as abuse and neglect, can actually lead to the chemistry of the brain changing which can have a lifelong impact on learning, behavior, and health. 

Our district has identified 8 ways you can interact with your child to get them off to a “Great Start” and enter kindergarten ready to learn.

  • Share Stories:  By the time a child begins kindergarten they should have 1,000 books read to them. 
  • Talk Together:  Babies and children need to hear lots of words to build up their vocabulary.
  • Ask Questions:  Your child should be asking you many questions as they work to make sense of the world, but you should be asking too.  “Where is your nose?” or “What color is the sky?” are examples of great questions.
  • Sing Songs:  Rhymers are readers.  Nursery rhymes build memorization, sequencing, voice inflection and exposure to new words. Dancing is fun too.
  • Play Games:  Playing games is the job of a child.  From Peek-a-Boo to Candy Land children learn lots of skills from playing.
  • Allow for Exploration: Using building blocks, playing with wooden spoons, or pots and pans allow children to explore their surroundings.
  •  Let Them Be Helpers:  As children go older give them “jobs” to do such as mixing the cookies or taking out the trash.  Children can learn responsibility and realize their importance and value.
  • Give Praise: Making children feel valued and special will help them have a positive self-image.  Make sure you tell your children when you are proud or they have a done a great job.   

This year, we will be welcoming the future class of 2030.  Children are our future; we owe them a path that will guide them to a successful future. This begins in the Early Years!