Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to work . . .

Sunday already, meaning tomorrow is back to work day for another short week. We still have our room so some of the family will be staying in the hotel and I will commute for a couple of days. Hopefully, the weather will continue to cooperate so the driving will be easier than getting here. On the last post I shared a picture of my grand kids swimming so today how about one sledding. Both were great times. They bring such joy to our lives.
One of the big tasks for this week will be trying to make some sense of all the reading material that has accumulated on my office table. I have not been able to keep up with all the great books and articles that seem to find there way to that work area. As always, it includes books and articles about leadership in our profession as I see this as essential for us to create and sustain learning communities focused on Classroom 10 learning. Another area of reading focus is on sustainability, one of the most difficult challenges we currently face and a necessary topic for study by students in all grade levels. I also have one pile devoted entirely to technology as it relates to our work and another on our latest thinking around Classroom 10, our instructional units being written by teachers, and the questions that need answering.
It will be fun to bring some order to my multiple piles. It is something that I usually end up doing two to three times each school year. I'll share some of the books and articles that end up influencing my thinking and that seem to find a way into my vocabulary and teaching. I'm actually getting a little energized thinking about the time I'll have for this work.
I just previewed the post and see again that there is no space between paragraphs like the last post. They show in the work space, but not the post. I don't know how to fix and I don't want to waste more time going back and forth. Any help out there?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wet feet . . .

I returned home late last night to find more snow than I can ever recall at our house. Now, I know that I'm not very tall, but the snow came up to the top of my barn boots and those go up to my knees. I went home to check on the house, the horses, and the other animals. It didn't look like much new snow had fallen in Maple Valley, but Ravensdale was dumped upon. They even plowed and sanded our entry road; something that I don't ever recall being done.

We have taken the grand kids to a place where they can swim and we can use the hot tub and sauna and that is where I have returned. What a difference. The pictures tell the story. Now my feet will only be wet from warm water, not from snow in my boots. That is if I wear boots in the hotel parking lot that is ankle deep in slush and ice.
I have been taking some time away from work related thinking, but the budget issue seems to never be far from my thoughts. It angers me that all school systems in the state are faced with these problems at the same time that we face new challenges with NCLB, changing standards, and the unknowns of new OSPI leadership.
I realize and appreciate the major challenges that the Governor and legislators face and the many challenges that families are experiencing in these difficult times. I also have come to accept that public education will not be spared as budgets at the state level are built. I don't like it, but I don't see how a compromise budget will emerge without some cuts. We have made the decision to use the Governor's proposed budget as our target. As I shared in an earlier post, I thought with the democrats in control of both houses that this would be a good benchmark. But, with republicans speaking positively about it, with the threat of a lawsuit by state workers, and with talk of raising taxes I no longer believe that it will survive without changes. Where and how many I don't pretend to know, we can only hope that they don't result in cuts that make balancing our budgets more difficult.
There is also a renewed initiative to raise the levy lid. The initiative emerges every year at legislative time as many of the larger Puget Sound districts lobby to raise the lid. With the proposed and expected cuts, this may be the year that it happens as legislators may see it as a way for districts to make up for the cuts. We have not and continue to not be in favor of this as we believe that it results in more disparity and relieves the state from their responsibility to fund public education. We are currently at about 24% of our revenue from local levy and believe that our community would not want the district to be able to increase this through local funds. What are your thoughts about raising the local levy lid? Many east side districts are supportive of this as they are able to easily pass their operating levy.
I guess that what is bothering me most is that these challenges are creating additional stress and anxiety for many of our staff members concerned for their jobs. Unfortunately, these are real concerns that for the first time in my experience may become a reality as we look at more closely aligning what we do with the statutory requirements of a public education in the state of Washington. Next week we will be continuing this process as we begin to identify all the services that we are currently providing our students, parent, and community.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow balls and victory . . .

Yes, it was a great game. We stayed to the very end and enjoyed seeing Holmgren do his farewell walk around the field. A patchwork offensive line that gave up zero sacks and over 100 yards rushing and a defense that intercepted him twice . Wow! It was like our championship year except for the snow.

Did you see all the snow balls? I couldn't believe it. The refs and Jets were really getting pelted after the game not just in the last couple minutes. It was both funny and upsetting as I believe it was disrupting to a great game and not necessary as the Hawks stopped them on fourth down. After the game though it was just funny even though I barely escaped being on the receiving end of at least two power shots. Even with the snow and long, slow drive home it was a great experience.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow and the Governor's semi-soft landing . . .

Well, we already made the call to close for tomorrow. It became easier to do when Jeff at KC Public Works told us his crews would not be able to grade and sand the emergency routes as they were struggling just to keep the main roads safe. With the 20 degree temperatures, continued snowfall, and without that sand it will not be safe for buses to be on the roads in the morning. It would have also been very difficult for many staff to get to work from the surrounding communities. Not a very good weather week for school and learning.

The big news of the day was Governor Gregoire's proposed budget. Based upon what we had been hearing for the last couple of weeks the actual proposal was almost a relief. Instead of cutting all of I-728 the budget cuts 21% in year one and 23% in year two. This means a cut of approximately $800,000 instead of $3.3 million and makes the balancing job more manageable. It doesn't, however, mean that we will not need to make cuts because we do. Though we don't have all the numbers yet from the proposed budget, we know that we still must find $2.5 to $3 million in order to have a balanced 2009-10 budget. This is new ground for us as we have not had to make changes of this magnitude to balance prior budgets.

Overall, K-12 was cut 5.6% with another of the other major cuts being I-732, the Cost of Living initiative. Though this is not something that any of us wanted to see happen, it actually saves us money because we will not have to use local dollars to cover this potential salary increase for non-formula unit positions.

We are now moving forward using the Governor's proposed budget to identify how much to cut. This could change when the House and Senate propose budgets in March, but we can't wait that long to bring closure to this process. As I shared in yesterday's post, we will provide periodic updates on our web page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can't predict Mother Nature . . .

Don't like to keep sharing the travails of a superintendent making weather-related school closure calls, but it would look like ducking since today's call turned out so poorly if I didn't. Getting to school this morning would have been safe with the two hour late start, but we were very concerned with getting students home if the weather forecast was accurate. Late snow, cold temperatures, commuters leaving early, and our youngest students on the road last is not a good combination. I have been there and it was one of the most difficult situations I can recall for all of us. Unfortunately, we did not receive the anticipated snowfall so I do look foolish to some for the call.

As I look outside now, it appears like the snow is here. At least it is in my little section of Ravensdale. Just in time to make tomorrow and Friday another opportunity to second guess the weather and practice our analysis and synthesis skills as we evaluate the conditions and make a decision. I'm still waiting for the no-brainer decision, but don't expect that it will show this week. Lori, Susie, Bonnie, and Bridget are putting in long, stressful hours checking roads, answering my questions, and fielding calls from upset parents this week. They deserve a big thanks and appreciation for their commitment in difficult and anxious situations. Though the call in hindsight can certainly be questioned, we made it based upon the best information available at the time.

On another topic, we are anxiously awaiting the Governor's budget. It is the first budget to be submitted and we expect it to be out tomorrow. It will give us an indication of how difficult it will be to develop a balanced budget as I don't think a democratically controlled house and senate will make major shifts in the education portions of their budgets that come out after the session begins in January. We will soon be starting a budget development section on our web site to share information as we go through this process. We know there is a need for staff to have accurate and timely information as these difficult decisions are made. The addition to the web is one vehicle for dissemination of this information.

Finally, I'm pleased to say that we have spent considerable time discussing the comments to my post on our curriculum. On the January 5th waiver day we will be sharing with all High School and Junior High staff information on our curriculum development work and Classroom 10. Nancy will be with Terry and teacher leaders at the High School and I will be with Rob at the Junior High. I am looking forward to this opportunity for sharing information, identifying additional needs, and answering questions that resulted from your comments.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day two, another choice . . .

Day two of weather related school closures and it isn't getting any easier. We decided last night to close today. This gave more planning time for families and staff and we were comfortable that there would not be any improvement in conditions from last night to this morning. We would again like to make the call this evening for tomorrow, but more time is needed before we can decide so we will wait until the morning.

We closed for today because there were too many emergency routes that were not safe for our buses and because of the potential for kids to be waiting in poor conditions for extended periods at bus stops. King County public works staff shared with us today that they believe that we made the correct choice. Though the main roads are free of ice, the side roads in many areas are not and they have not been sanded or salted enough to make a difference. This includes one of the main roads to the high school, the junior high, Lake Webster area, the Maple Valley Heights area, and . . .

So, what is different for tomorrow and why with little change in the weather are we thinking about holding classes? First, the weather today did result in evaporation of some of the moisture that results in ice. We also today shared with Jeff from public works our emergency routes and where we were seeing the major problems. He is great, always listening and asking where they can help. He believes that late this evening and with the midnight shift they will be able to sand all of those areas. They wanted to wait until it was colder to ensure the sand would be over the ice. We were also able to spend additional time on the parking areas to make them safe.

The people who drive the district will be out early in the morning to provide us with guidance as we make this difficult decision. Some of us will spend a restless evening wondering and worrying what this guidance will result in around 5:00 am tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What to do?

Well, it's that dreaded time of year for superintendents - the time to make the school closure call. I just got off the phone a few minutes ago with the first report and, like most times, it will not be an easy call. Yes, there is ice in many places, but the main roads are in pretty good shape and if we go with emergency stops we may be able to go two hours late. We may, it could, main roads ok, - all those words that bring choice with them. Now the questions start.

  • How bad is the road to the high school since we know kids will still drive?
  • Are the parking lots safe?
  • If we believe the weather won't change between now and the morning when should we make the call?
  • What are the conditions in the surrounding communities since those will impact staff travel?
  • Are all emergency route stops on the main roads?
  • How many people can we get out on the roads now in the areas we know are the hardest areas to call?
  • If we go, should we go two hours late so it will be light and less traffic even though it probably won't change road conditions appreciably?
  • And, . . .

It will be another of those restless nights until we make a decision then a different stress after the decision as many second guess what we decided. These are obviously very difficult decisions to make that are made more difficult because of the diversity of our community as it relates to elevation and impact of the foothills on snowfall and temperatures. None of us individually has the context to make the decision. As with most things, it takes a collaborative effort to make the best decision.

One of these times if we have to alter the schedule it would be nice for it to be an obvious call. You know, one of those no brainers because of the number of inches on the ground. I wonder even then if all would agree?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The dreaded word . . .

There are any number of topics that make sense for me to blog about, but since the thing I seem to be struggling the most with currently is the financial future of our school system, I believe it is important for me to begin sharing it with you. We can't get away from the fact that the current fiscal situation on a local, state, regional, national, and international level is not good. It has become very clear with recent news stories and editorials that the governor and legislators are looking at somewhere in the range of a six billion dollar deficit as they begin the budget process. It has also become clear that public schools, regardless of what the state constitution says, will not be immune from the cuts necessary to reach a budget resolution.

What we don't know is the depth and breadth of what those cuts will be. The two that seem to be of most interest are Initiatives 728 and 732. I-728 is the class size initiative that we and most other systems have come to rely upon as basic education dollars not enhancements. In our district this is approximately 3.2 million dollars that we use to hire 33 teachers, support summer school, student interventions, and staff development. If this were to be cut it would have a very significant impact on the culture of our school system.

I-732 is the COLA initiative that currently would be providing an approximately 4% cost of living raise for staff. Historically, this initiative has not been funded at it's mandated level when state revenues have been short so this is again a potential cut. What makes these attractive as cuts is that together they would save about 1.45 billion dollars, approximately 25% of the deficit. If I were a legislator it would be difficult to ignore these potential cost saving measures. It will be important for us, however, to find vehicles to convey the negative impact this would have on public education across the state.

The potential of state cuts is compounded by the fact that we are already in the process of finding ways to balance our projected 2009-10 budget. Beginning this process, we knew that we would need to make cuts to meet our contractual obligations with our employee units and to make up the difference between inflationary increases and formula driven revenues. That process will be ongoing as we plan for the potential of even greater cuts.
The rumors and stories in our system have already begun though we have made no decisions and have only recently initiated the budget process. I will periodically provide updates as we learn more about the revenue for next year and begin to identify where savings are possible.
It is unfortunate that we must now also face these issues while continuing to build upon the learning communities we are developing. Our vision and mission to prepare young people for success after graduation will continue to be the driver for what we do and I thank you for your efforts and commitment.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sorry, football one more time . . .

I think I may have promised four weeks or so ago to not blog about football again this season, but today we finally saw a good game. Unfortunately, the Seahawks lost again in the last couple of minutes so the outcome was similar to all but the two wins of the season. But, the crowd was into it and we stayed for the entire game, even the fumble on the last drive. The loss, however, seemed harder to take than some that we were never in. Why is that? Do I want us to be so bad we lose early and I don't have to then get involved in the outcome? I never have this feeling at a Bears game.

What I have learned this year is that the demeanor of the crowd seems to change with the record. With the success of the last few years I didn't notice some of the behavior we are now experiencing. There has always been the drinking and I have annually had beer spilled on me at least one time partly because I have an aisle seat. It is the language and surliness that is increasing. The "F" word seems to flow like water from the mouths of those behind us and to one side. Fans of the other team have always been subjected to some good natured ribbing as they walk by that has now turned into yelling and profanity. It is a different environment now that we are losing.

We have one more home game this season with the Jets. I am looking forward to seeing Favre quarterback for a different team, but I am not looking forward to the changes in behavior that we have experienced these last few games. Winning next year will be welcomed for more than just the record. Can they make the changes next year that are necessary to again become winners?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fixing America's schools . . .

I just got around to reading the Time magazine cover story on Michelle Rhee, DC Chancellor of Schools. She has certainly been in the news over the past year for the changes she has made, attempted to make, and continues to work towards in that school system. In a relatively short period of time there have been school closures and the letting go of many teachers and administrators that do not meet the standards that she is creating.

Time will tell if her vision and methods prove successful. Being a superintendent is not always an easy job and being one in a large urban setting must be extremely difficult. I can't even imagine what it would be like considering the expectations and media coverage in Washington DC. The one positive may be that the performance is so poor that the changes will result in immediate gains. These short term successes will be important for her to sustain the journey.

I admire her commitment and share her belief that outstanding teachers and principals are the answer to the quality of learning in a school and wanting to pay teachers more. I don't share many of her methods and I remain concerned about using only test scores and bargained evaluation models to determine which teachers should be paid more. I also wonder what the system is doing to ensure that the high demand being placed on teachers and principals is balanced by high support over time.

I appreciate the fact that her actions are resulting in a focus on public education, but I am concerned with what it will result in over time. Will our new President and others see her beliefs and methods as a model for others? Will this quest for merit compensation based on achievement find its way into the Education Department and the distribution of federal revenue? Are those of us that see PLC's, consensus, and collaboration as the answer to improving learning for all students simply holding on to outdated beliefs that won't sustain over time?

You may want to read the article as this system and her efforts were touted by both presidential candidates so both the Democrats and Republicans are watching closely. Who knows what the future holds with the unprecedented budget shortfalls and accelerating demand for improvement in our profession. Will the Washington DC journey become the model for the rest of us?