Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Message delivered . . .

I shared our goals this morning with district staff at the high school.  I was surprised and pleased by the number of people in attendance, somewhere between 600 and 700.  I felt ok with the presentation and believe that it was important information for all to have as we begin the school year. 

It was a lot of information delivered in a short period of time so the likelihood of anyone remembering much is not very great.  If those in attendance reflect on their beliefs and commitment related to our Classroom 10 goals, it was a success.  If the information results in conversations about student attachment to school and the need to focus on success for every student, it was a success.  If staff can answer questions from community members about our renovation and increased capacity needs, it was a success.  If staff left with some dissonance about the shift in accountability, it was a success.

The following chart showing potential class sizes in 2019 if we cannot increase capacity seemed to cause some tension for many in the room.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A $400 million error . . .

New Jersey was one of the states that didn't make the cut in round two of RttT, but was close.  Check out this Education Week article to see how it cost the state education commissioner his job.  It seems that he told the governor that the reason they lost precious points was due to a clerical error related to the submission of budget data by year.  He further said that they corrected the mistake in an August presentation to the federal panel judging the application.  A video of the presentation shared by government officials contradicts the commissioner's story.  Panelists asked for, but were not given the data for the correct years during the presentation and a progressive education commissioner is now out of a job.

It is now Sunday evening and I am still working on my Tuesday message.  I have the slides down to about 80, but still have not finished with transferring the story board to images and words.  I need to finish soon so that I can see how long it will take to deliver and make the necessary adjustments to align with the allotted time.  I guess I control the time so I could make it fit to almost any reasonable amount of time.  What would a reasonable amount of time be factoring in possibly 600+ people sitting on bleachers, in the high school gym, right after coffee and breakfast?  Should the message control the time, the time the message, or should I be thinking about it in another way? 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Searching for the right message . . .

I have been working for a number of days on what to say at next Tuesday's welcome back breakfast for all staff.  It is at the same time a wonderful opportunity to share a message and a daunting task.  It will be the one time during the year when the majority of all certified and classified staff will be in the same room; creating both the opportunity and the stress.  An opportunity because of having so many together at one time and stressful because of the difficulty in finding the right focus for this diverse audience.

I have changed the focus a number of times over the last few weeks as we have continued our work with Classroom 10 in conversations with the Board and teachers and administrators.  These conversations have made me reflect on where we are at on this journey and what will be important for all staff to know and understand about it at this time.  Yet, I have also come to realize that there are other critical topics that need to be included in this message as we begin a new year of learning. 

So, I have made the decision to plan the message around the district's five recently approved goals giving me about 100 slides.  This is far too much information to share in the planned time frame and for an audience of this size to endure.  Yes, much more to do before this presentation will be ready for delivery.  I read in Everyone Communicates Few Connect by John Maxwell, that one has seven seconds to make the right first impression.  That can be difficult for a short, balding, graybeard kind of guy to accomplish, so if you are in attendance, please give me a little more time to at least say a few words before making the decision to tune in or tune out.  Heck, it will take me at least seven seconds to get the microphone from Terry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Round two winners announced . . .

The ten winners of round two of RttT were announced yesterday. That means that nine states and the District of Columbia will be sharing the $3.4 billion dollars to support their identified change initiatives on top of the $600 million awarded to two states in round one. You can read some of Secretary Duncan’s comments in this article at Education Week.

Our state did not participate in round one and did not make the cut in round two. I have shared some of my thoughts in previous posts as to why we were not successful so I won't belabor that point. It will be interesting to see if the Secretary and President are successful in convincing Congress to fund their $1.35 billion request for another round that could prove to be more successful for our state. Even then, however, there were some losers in round two that are much better positioned for success than we are given the Secretary's comments.

Only the top 10 finishers were awarded a share of $3.4 billion left in Round Two of the federal grant competition. Some prognosticators were surprised—and disappointed—that states that have drawn credit for overhauling their education policies, such as Colorado and Louisiana, didn't make the cut.

In a conference call with reporters, Duncan sounded disappointed, too. He called Colorado, which ranked 17th, a "national leader" in adopting innovative ed policy. "I was very, very sorry, quite frankly, we weren't able to fund them," he said.

Of Louisiana, the secretary said he "would have loved to have funded" the state, a near-miss at 13th. And California, which came in 16th? The secretary noted that he was "sad and disappointed" to not be able to give that state funding.

As with any process such as this, there is going to be controversy and those claiming that politics played a role in the rankings. This despite reassurances from Duncan that he did not over ride or change the rankings of any of the reviewers. Some are also questioning why there are no states west of Ohio among the winners? Go to this EDUWONK post for links to some of the discussions currently taking place.

The following statement from Secretary Duncan comes for the Education Week article.

"This may be the end of phase two, but it's not the end of Race to the Top," Duncan said. He noted the jumps in many applicants' scores between rounds, saying their efforts amounted to a "breathtaking amount of reform."

It may be a breathtaking amount of reform partially implemented with additional promises on paper, but only time and data will determine whether this paper reform and the dollars attached to it result in significant increases in student achievement that sustain over time. It would be nice to have the opportunity for this level of funding to support the change initiatives in legislation and on paper in our state. Maybe next time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A new year . . .

The one event that drives home the start of the new school year for me is the first day with teachers new to the diustrict.  For this year that day is tomorrow.  With the state of the economy and the number of teachers seeking work, the quality of the candidate pools has been exceptionally large and of high quality.  I have the opportunity in the morning to welcome these new staff members to our learning community and to begin the process of orientation and induction into our learning journey. 

I will be sharing our new five year goals focused on:
  1. Housing - meeting our need to create additional capacity throughout our system and improving the learning environment in existing schools.
  2. Equity - ensuring a safe learning environment for ALL our young people.
  3. Accountability - identifying and holding ourselves accountability for supporting growth and increasing student achievement over time.
  4. Relationship - reaching out to the community in meaningful ways to support and engage in our learning community.
  5. Ten - implmenting our Classroom 10 journey.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More on using test data . . .

Earlier this month I blogged about the Seattle School District and Seattle Education Association disagreement over teacher evaluation that spilled over into the newspaper. Today, there was a Times article about a public meeting where the Seattle Board heard from community members and teachers about their proposal to use student achievement data in the teacher evaluation process. Once again both sides of the issue were in attendance to share their opinion on the issue.

Hundreds of teachers rallied outside before the meeting, chanting that teachers are more than a test score. Inside, roughly 75 members of Our Schools Coalition, which favors the district's proposal to use student academic growth, measured by tests, as a part of teachers' evaluations, wore orange T-shirts with "Kids First" in big white letters.

What I find interesting is that a joint union-district task force recommended an evaluation process that did not include the controversial use of test scores. The district included this and other items in their negotiation proposal. That may turn out to be a mistake as the sides attempt to bring closure to bargaining by the end of August. Will this issue be important enough that we see the threat of or an actual strike?

The use of test scores in teacher evaluation is a national movement that has taken front stage with the recent Los Angeles Times article on their value-added analysis of seven years worth of data from the classrooms of over 6000 elementary teachers. This article has resulted in a lot of backlash that you can find in Larry Ferlazzo’s the Best of posts. Unlike Secretary Duncan, I find myself agreeing with those in disagreement with the analysis and posting of the teacher names.

As I have shared before, student achievement data cannot be ignored. How we use it to determine our success is something that we must address. I don’t believe that we can mandate or force a process that will support our journey or sustain over time. Our choice has been to first identify what we value and believe is important for the success of all students, Classroom 10 and the support structures that must be developed and implemented before a focus on accountability. We are now at the point in our journey for a focus on accountability and our choice is to collaboratively identify how test data will be used to influence and support our work to ensure:

Quality Learning

Every day in

Every Classroom for

Every Child.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A reminder . . .

I found this article at Education Week on the annual Beloit College Mindset List  interesting and informative. The list started in 1998 and has been publish annually since then as a reminder for professors of the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of incoming freshmen. For those my age, it is also a reminder of just how old we are.

Of the 75 items on the list there are some such as number 6 below that I don’t understand at all – probably a reference to the Buffy the Vampire movies I believe.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

Some others of interest to me included these.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone. – I still have one of these on my office phone and yes, I do play with it.

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

Though amusing and a reminder of our age, the list does serve a useful purpose as we consider the need to ensure that schoolwork is meaningful to students. Our learners come to school with significantly different mental models than the adults bring to their work. Being reminded of this is supportive of suspending our assumptions and considering the needs of our students.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More on potential budget adjustments . . .

A quick follow up to Thursday’s post about the potential cut to the budget if the state’s revenue continues to fall below projections. I shared that one area of potential cut would be to levy equalization because this is one program that is not covered under the basic education law. Because of this, it can be reduced or cut when situations such as this revenue shortfall occur. Prior to this year it would not have been a significant reduction as our levy equalization was between $100,000 and $200,000. That changed for next year because the 2010 legislature increased the percentage of equalization meaning our 2010-11 budget is based on equalization revenue of about $800,000, an amount that would result in visible budget adjustments.

We will need to wait and see what the September revenue projections turn out to be and the governor’s response. If necessary, I don’t believe that she would eliminate all the revenue because in many smaller districts across the state this revenue source is a much higher percentage of their total budget and in larger and more urban areas districts receive no equalization revenue. The one positive in this negative situation is that it comes at the beginning of the budget giving us time to respond.

I also shared in an earlier post that the state would be receiving federal money to save education jobs. This may ease the potential cuts that come from the state’s difficult economic situation. I also shared that the federal bailout was not received positively by all as witnessed by this Seattle Times editorial on Friday the 13th because part of the money comes from cuts to the food stamp program.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More bad news . . .

Just when we thought the influx of federal money to our state might be helpful for school districts and the state budget, we get the news that the latest state revenue collection report shows tax collections are up from a year ago, but the collections for the July 11-Aug 10 period are approximately $24 million less than predicted in the June forecast. If the trend continues as anticipated in the September report the state will be in the red, something that will require immediate and potentially significant changes to state programs. This trend is on top of the projected $3 billion shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium.

In her announcement, the Governor is asking state agency heads to prepare for 4-7% budget cuts beginning on October 1st. What this might mean for public schools is not known, but one area of potential cuts as shared by the Governor is to Local Effort Assistance (levy equalization) because it is not under the basic education umbrella. If the projections end up being accurate, our state will need to change the way we do business and, unfortunately, that will include us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fed bailout continues . . .

The House today passed the education jobs bill. This means that our state will receive approximately $200 million dollars to save education jobs and an additional amount that will negate the need for the governor to call a special session of the legislature to balance the budget.
From this Seattle Times article it is evident that not all representatives were supportive of being called back to a one day session for a vote on this bill and the partisan divide that it has reinforced.

"Teachers, nurses and cops should not be used as pawns in a cynical political game" resulting from "the Democratic majority's failure to govern responsibly," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.

"Where do the bailouts end?" asked Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that, too? At some point we've got to say, 'Enough is enough."

But Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee said his state of Washington would get funds to keep 3,000 teachers. Republicans, he said, "think those billions of dollars for those corporate loopholes is simply more important than almost 3,000 teachers and classrooms in the state of Washington."

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said Republicans ignore the fact that the law would not add to the federal deficit. "They want to do everything in their power to make certain that President Obama can't get this country going again. I think in November they are going to find it was a dumb policy."

We will need to wait and see how the money will be distributed at the federal level. There are multiple ways that have been used to make these decisions in the past. Secretary Duncan has committed to streamlining the application process to get money to local districts as soon as possible.

Left with improved documents and some dissonance . . .

Today, we finished the two days with the administrators and invited teachers focusing on our Classroom 10 initiative for the next two years. I’m leaving with mixed feelings about success and influence on my learning organization; the administrative team. I can talk with the best about the attributes of a learning organization, but as a practitioner I am not doing as well. An objective reviewer of the interactions over the last two days would leave with questions and concerns about my leadership and the way that we process issues and reach decisions.

Though I have much to reflect upon, I know that we left this learning opportunity with documents that will support learning around key content, active learning strategies, and checks for understanding. Questions were also raised that revised the way we will measure success on the district’s two-year SMART goal and the process of identifying support for individual teachers and teams of teachers was initiated. Building representatives were also given the opportunity to begin the process of balancing the demand of the goal with support at the building level. We are better positioned today because of this work to support teachers as we implement this goal.

The goal has many layers leading to complexity and dissonance for those that need to have all of the answers at the front end of an initiative. This doesn’t always align with my belief in ready, fire, aim, where we commit to a target that we believe has the potential to influence learning, move toward it, and refine practice as we learn from our journey. The dissonance emerged today in multiple contexts. I responded well to some, but not as well to other questions or concerns and chose to go to flight as I struggled with the assumptions influencing my mental model. To maintain commitment on this goal, I will need to either modify my behavior or demonstrate that the strategy is successful for those experiencing dissonance. It will be a difficult, but necessary issue for me and for our learning organization to process. It will also be difficult for me to suspend my assumptions and be open to influence.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tension about tomorrow . . .

Big day for me tomorrow! It is the first meeting of the year for the administrative team and I have my opportunity to share and create expectations. It will also be the first time that we will collectively work with the revised Classroom 10 documents. A group of teachers and administrators have worked since last spring to create documents that allow us to remove the word “DRAFT” from the top and move forward.

Tomorrow and Tuesday we will focus on three components of Classroom 10; key content and concepts, active processing, and checking for understanding. These three will also be the focus for the year at the district level as we begin to work systemically to embed Classroom 10 characteristics in all classrooms. Expect to see and hear these throughout the year as identify and implement learning and support structures for a successful journey.

I am also feeling some tension as I have far more slides than I should. The slides assist in telling my story and sharing what I see as critical content and focus for our journey. I have spent considerable time reflecting and creating, but the target has been moving as we adjust our efforts and bring clarity to the multiple goals of the message. The result is about 100 slides, many more than I had anticipated when I first started. Tonight will be spent in reflection and review as I use the creative tension to scale back the visible portion of my story.

If you get any feedback from one of our administrators feel free to share it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A difficult issue . . .

After reading this article in the Seattle Times about teacher evaluation, I am struggling with why we make our work so difficult. The article is about an issue emerging through bargaining on the use of student assessment data in teacher evaluation. The problem is that it is now being played out in the press and has become a bargaining tool. Please understand that I am not taking sides or blaming anyone it is just unfortunate that it is playing out this way. Goodness knows; I take as many missteps if not more then most people.

The issue comes on the heels of the big firing in Washington D.C. where 302 people were let go including 246 teachers, 226 for performance issues and 20 for not having the proper license. In addition, 729 more were put on notice meaning they could be in the next group to be let go. These firings are a result of the district's new negotiated IMPACT evaluation model that is being touted by education reformers as a model for the rest of us to emulate.

I know nothing about this large school district other than what I read and have no idea of the number of teachers that should not be in classrooms with kids. I do know that in ALL classrooms, every day, every child must have the opportunity for quality learning. This will mean that some teachers will need support to implement changed practices and in some cases will need to consider other professional opportunities.

I don't believe that we can argue that student achievement is not an essential measure of a district's success. The questions around this issue are many and will be difficult to overcome as we and many others seek that balance the individual teacher and the system's responsibility for the achievement of each student. I believe that this trend as witnessed by this article in the Times, will not and should not disappear; using student achievement data in determining our success is something that we must embrace. As we move in this direction, it will be important to keep this statement from the D.C. union's president in front of us.

Washington Teachers" Union President George Parker called it "reform through firing."

"The focus," he said, "is on firing rather than supporting and building."

This comes after the union and district agreed on the new evaluation model. It suggests to me that they have further to go in aligning the mental models that resulted in this new model.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A stimulus, band aid, or both?

I learned on the Washington State Budget and Policy Center blog that the Senate bill to preserve education jobs passed an important vote this morning. It would mean money to states to keep teachers and would also mean that our state could balance the budget without the need for another special session. This Seattle Times post gives information on how the bill, if passed by the House, will impact Washington state.

As shared in this Flypaper post, however, not all are in support of the revenue in this bill identified for saving teacher jobs. This Boston Globe article published before the vote gives more detail on the bill and the President’s support of it. Now that the money will not come from reducing revenue in Race to the Top he and Secretary Duncan support this version.

If passed, this will be viewed as a necessary stimulus by some and another band aid on a flawed state revenue model by others.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A short technology quiz . . .

For the teachers who might be reading this I thought you might be interested in taking this 10 question quiz I found on MiddleWeb. Your answers result in a ranking on your use of technology tools to enhance your teaching. Since I am not in a classroom, I couldn’t give answers to most questions, but I took it to get to the ranking and suggestions. You can take it here. I found it somewhat cumbersome as each question is on a separate page.

Based on my answers I ranked as an Intermediate user, half way between Beginner and Advanced. The suggestions to support were useful. My ranking can be found here.

Scott, if you take it I hope you do better than the last time.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A last conference reflection . . .

This will be the last post from the conference shared by our board member representative, Mary Jane Glaser. Mary Jane is a long standing member of our board. She is very committed to the young people and adults that work in our system and is also an important part of our community; the vision behind the Maple Valley Creative Arts Council and an early supporter of the Farmer's Market. We are truly blessed to have her on our Board and in our community.

Mary Jane Glaser

On the final day of the SOL Conference, Peter Senge asked each of us to identify our current reality of sustainability and our vision for the future. The differences between the two states gave us creative tension. He, then, asked us to identify our visions for sustainability. We weren’t asked to share them with the group. They were meant to be personal reflections. My vision for Tahoma was a district where all students and staff naturally engage in systems thinking and sustainability practices and education. Our schools will be busy, exciting hubs of activities and learning with sustainability embedded in all aspects of the curriculum. The students will act as conduits of sustainability practices to parents and the community. At the beginning of the conference, I would not have been able to articulate my thoughts around sustainability so easily.

A quote from the World Conservation Union helped me understand the primary focus of sustainability. “…Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.” A thought provoking session regarding climate change (or as Peter coined, “global weirding”) punctuated the current practices that put the quality of human life in jeopardy. Go to www.ClimateInteractive.org for an intriguing interactive exercise on CO2 emissions.

Tracy Waters’s session on systems thinking combined discussion and activities to help people recognize the way we see things. The three habits of systems thinking that resonated with me and my work were: Considers an issue fully; Considers short and long-term consequences, and Seeks to understand the big picture.

One of the highlights of the conference, for me, was the opportunity to work with our Tahoma team in the small breakout sessions. Our team, including our four student representatives, shared key insights and visions to map out our future sustainability model. “Commit to a learning community beyond the four walls of the school district.” “Increase the system’s capacity to take advantage of systems thinking and systems dynamics to influence the decisions we make and to begin the inclusion of students in systems thinking.” “Increase opportunities for student leadership in schools and the community.” “Complete sustainability science units and embed sustainability in social studies curriculum.”

Upon reflection, the conference helped me connect the pieces of the puzzle. I suspended some ladders of inference and recognized models of behavior. Social justice was infused in the collective narrative. Feedback loops are balancing and reinforcing.
One last favorite quote from Mother Ann Lee, Shaker, “Do all your work as if you had a thousand years to live, and as you would if you knew you must die tomorrow.”