Turkey Day Trivia

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Some Thanksgiving Trivia before you head home for the long weekend: In 1621, the menu featured goose, not turkey, which the Pilgrims ate with spoons rather than forks; the day was originally to be a fast not a feast; Swanson came up with the idea of TV dinners in 1953 to get rid of 260 spare tons of Thanksgiving turkey; the best way to test a cranberry’s ripeness is to bounce it; and there is a Turkey, Texas. These are facts I didn’t know yesterday and I learned them not from a Google search, but by tapping into the T&L community. How has your PLN helped you this week? Maybe you found a Thanksgiving-themed lesson or a great recipe for pecan pie. Holidays are an opportunity to see how many ways our PLNs help us to develop professionally and personally. So, as you and your families enjoy one of the 45 million turkeys that will be consumed tomorrow, remember the many people in your community who are thankful for the challenging and rewarding work you do. Happy Thanksgiving!

Superintendents to schools: Stop fighting over Common Core

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Superintendents said the battle over the Common Core standards is having a negative impact on their schools.

While the superintendents largely agreed that the controversial Common Core testing standards can be improved, more than 75 percent of the school leaders said that they see the standards as having a positive impact on education, a survey released Thursday for the state Council of School Superintendents found.

“Most superintendents regard the Common Core Standards as promising although not perfect,” Robert Reidy, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “They see the state’s testing system as trying to serve too many purposes and therefore not showing enough value for educators and families in helping to improve instruction.”

Nonetheless, 96 percent said the ongoing fight between the state and parents, teachers and students over the standards is hurting the school environment as a whole.

“Debates over matters of public policy are now so often inflamed and any leader who steps forward with solutions invites criticism,” the group’s report said. “Condemning is easier than consensus building. But if nothing is ever good enough, nothing can change, and nothing will ever improve.”

Superintendents from among the state’s nearly 700 school districts gave mixed grades to state tests: They can be useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses in instruction, but are not the best measure for evaluating teachers.

The state Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have convened separate panels to figure how to improve the Common Core testing and teacher evaluations, which are based in part on student performance. In April, 20 percent of students opted out of the tests.

The council conducted two on-line surveys: One last spring asked about the opt-outs and the state assessment system, and 45 percent of superintendents participated. Another survey over the summer sought views on the Common Core standards and usefulness of state assessments; 48 percent of superintendents responded.

Leaders Who Last

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watch creative commons Artiom Gorgan.jpgIt is no secret that schools and the educators and students who work in and attend them are under stress. The time has come to radically change how our schools are organized, how time and work in schools is organized, how our leaders and teachers are trained, and how our students are taught.  The time demands leaders who think and act creatively (Harding, 2010).

Superintendent Quality and Longevity Matters
The role of the superintendent in affecting student achievement has been 
researched and debated.  The Brookings Institute reported:

When district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to be playing a part in an ensemble performance in which the superintendent’s role could be led successfully by many others. In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable.

Well, exactly, but the truth is being slanted!  Is it not the superintendent who creates and choreographs that ensemble? And, yes, that ensemble matters.

It is a violation of a leader’s responsibility to ignore or destroy the talent existing in schools; a leader of a school community should not abandon its future to the control of others. The efficacy to create a community’s future resides in the hands of its leaders, even if it is influenced by mandates put in place by others (Myers & Berkowicz p. 63).

Schools are places where longevity also matters. The superintendent, in order to develop that ensemble of administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and students, must be trusted.  Integrity, upon which trust is built, is demonstrated over time, in multiple situations and decisions that reveal his or her true nature and intention.  Modeling integrity, compassion, and empathy while helping to develop those very attributes in others is key to the work of the leader. Should there be a change in the leadership every few years, the work begins again, contributing to the already threatening exhaustion experienced by those in our school systems.

Top level leadership in schools, as in business, healthcare, and higher education, often relies on boards to whom they report for support. Without positive rapport between the leader and the board of education, the tension and the political struggle at the governance level can, itself, hold a system back. Often it leads to a board asking the leader to leave or a leader choosing to move on. In either case, one wonders what contributed to the failed relationship and whether there was an investment made to turn it around. Starting anew may have an advantage from the board’s perspective or the leader’s, but the organization will only benefit from a new leader who functions with the students as the priority…and a board that wants the leader to succeed for all.

Principal Quality and Longevity Matters
The proposed Council of Chief State School Officers  (CCSSO) 2015 ISLLC Standards, expect principals to be able to:

  • build a shared vision of student academic success and well-being.
  • champion and support instruction and assessment that maximizes student learning and achievement.
  • manage and develop staff members’ professional skills and practices in order to drive student learning and achievement.
  • cultivate a caring and inclusive school community dedicated to student learning, academic success and personal well-being of every student.
  • coordinate resources, time, structures and roles to build the instructional capacity of teachers and other staff.
  • engage families and the outside community to promote and support student success.
  • administer and manage operations efficiently and effectively.

In order to master these seven expectations one needs time to gain the trust of the school community. Integrity is demonstrated and relationships develop over time. Yet, according to a 2014 study from the School Leaders Network, 25 percent of principals leave their schools each year, and 50 percent of new principals quit during their third year. Can this be good for students?

EducationNext.org study reports:

…highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. These impacts are somewhat smaller than those associated with having a highly effective teacher. But teachers have a direct impact on only those students in their classroom; differences in principal quality affect all students in a given school.

Schools need focused leaders who can develop and sustain the coalitions to move a school forward, coalitions within the school and with those outside of school walls both. We need talented, dynamic, learning leaders and we need them to stay long enough to make a difference.