Friday, June 29, 2012

Some necessary tension . . .

Wednesday night was the second meeting of the Board’s ad hoc committee looking at preparing our graduates for college and careers.  We had 35 people including students, teachers, administrators, PTA, and community members come together on a beautiful summer evening to continue our conversation from last month.  The following question is guiding our work.

How do we partner with our community to ensure that ALL Tahoma High School graduates leave with a plan that provides options for success in post high school learning and work?

Our responsibility is to provide the board with two products.
  •  A vision statement that in few words captures the many components of an answer to the question above.
  •  A communication plan to create conversations in our schools, homes, and community about the importance of ensuring that all graduates have options and a plan for success in post high school learning and work.

We are attempting to create some tension by challenging the mental model that many hold that the only way to success is through attendance at a four year university.  That tension between this current mental model and the preferred vision that will come from the committee provides us with the opportunity for new learning and changed practice.  We don’t want young people to give up aspirations; we want aspirations to be the result of learning, focused conversations over time, and guidance for families as they make these important decisions.  The conversations will not always be easy, but they are necessary for us to ensure that ALL students and families have these experiences.

Last night we had a Boeing HR executive share information with us that provided committee members with additional information and some dissonance as they used their learning to identify key words and phrases for the vision statement.  The time flew by and the energy level was very high throughout the meeting.  If you are reading this and are a part of the committee please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment to this post.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reform misses target . . .

I want to thank Scott for sharing a Tacoma News Tribune article with me by Ronald Byrnes, associate professor in Pacific Lutheran University’s School of Education.  I found it thought provoking and encourage you to read it.  It aligned with my recent post on the Gallop Poll findings highlighting a decline in Americans’ confidence in public schools.

The article focuses on opinion leaders who constantly get their thoughts and ideas in the media using global economic competitiveness and national greatness to promote their school change agendas.  Opinion leaders are people like President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Bill Gates.  This is so true and the tone of the message is always negative, what we are doing wrong.  The fix also has a similar ring; focus on math and science and tying student achievement to teacher evaluations.  Byrnes contends that this focus will not motivate teachers, students, or their families to embrace the proposed changes and is the reason why most change efforts have limited impact on schooling.

I’m almost of the opinion that I should just copy and paste the entire article, but that isn't good blogging so I'll just whet your appetite for going to the article with these.

If teachers find appeals to economic competitiveness and national greatness uninspiring, it’s doubly true for students. Academic achievement isn’t a question of how much young people love their country; it’s whether they have inspiring teachers, positive peer pressure and, most importantly, caring adults in their lives who combine high expectations with tireless support and encouragement.
Or . . .

As citizens we have a choice. We can passively defer to the combined voices of the opinion leaders who dominate the nation’s newspapers and airwaves or we can resolve to challenge their narrow utilitarian assumptions about the purpose of schooling and instead frame teaching as a profoundly challenging, rewarding and important form of community service.
Read it here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Better news . . .

At last, some positive news related to the economic forecast in our state.  In this Seattle Times article we learn that the new governor will start his tenure with a growing budget.

A forecast released this week said state revenue will grow by about 3.5 percent per year for the two-year cycle beginning July 2013. But many of those gains will be consumed by other growth in state government, such as the resumption of cost-of-living adjustments for teachers, medical-care cost increases and general growth in reliance on state services.

Like most budget news there is the good, more revenue and the bad, higher projected expenditures.  The bad is part of an estimate from the Office of Financial Management that maintenance level spending growth is expected to be about 7.9% over this two year period leading Governor Gregoire’s budget director to estimate a relatively flat budget process.  On the plus side, our teachers should be pleased to see that someone is at least talking about restoring cost-of-living adjustments in this 7.9% estimate. 

So, my question is the same as it was before I saw this update.  Where will the two governor candidates find the $1 billion they say they will put into this budget for education?  By making these announcements as the article suggests they have removed this item as a topic of discussion in this campaign.

It's not part of the discussion in the governor race. Democratic candidate Jay Inslee said the state can fulfill education-funding obligations by growing the economy, making government more efficient and curbing health-care costs. Rob McKenna makes similar arguments, adding that he'd like to shrink state government through attrition and a levy swap proposal to make education funding more consistent.

Can they do it without raising taxes?  Others in state government suggest that it is not possible.  If we later find out it is not possible without raising taxes which of the two candidates will then move off of the pledge to not raise taxes and keep the pledge to put 1 billion additional dollars into public education?  Now, that might be the candidate to support.  Would either make this move?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another hit . . .

A recent Gallup Poll resulted in another negative hit for public schools.  The headline of this Gallup article tells it all.

Confidence in U.S. Public Schools at New Low

Americans' confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup's 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.

Why?  Could it be that, except at the local level, there is very little positive coverage in the media?   What data do people use when making these judgments?  Below, is a chart that shows results of the same poll for education since its inceptions in 1973.  It suggests that over this period of time there has never been a year when greater than 60% of the respondents felt a great deal of confidence in public schools.

What will it take to change the trend line to a positive direction?  Part of the answer must be found in the media.  As long as everything we read, see, and hear is negative the mental models that people hold about our profession will not change.  If we can't do it in the next two years it will become even more difficult when the common core assessments are implemented because of the expected low scores as schools adjust to the new standards.

Kind of interesting that the title of the article is about public schools when there are lower scores for many other surveyed institutions.  For example, Congress comes in at 13% and HMO's at 19%.  At the other end of the list is the military at 75% and small business at 63%.  Public schools are in the middle of the list, yet we made the headline for the negative result.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Changing work focus . . .

I’m often asked what I’m going to do with my summer now that students and teachers are on break.  There seems to be a mental model that my work and that of others in our office comes to a halt when students leave.  That is not an accurate picture of our reality as the work continues, but there are opportunities to change focus.  For example, time that was prioritized for working directly with principals and others on our Classroom 10 goal can now be given to increasing my knowledge through reading and reflection.

I have more time during this part of the year for continuing my leadership journey.  This means reading and searching for the next nuggets to increase our capacity to distribute leadership throughout the system.  One of my primary responsibilities is to ensure that we balance the high demands placed on principals and teachers with high support and to create cultures that are reflective and future focused.  In my current reading, the following are two of the questions I’m focused on answering and looking to the reading for those coveted nuggets.  What knowledge and skills do administrators and teacher leaders need to create supports that position all teachers to successfully implement the instructional practices embedded in our Key Content learning goal?  What must leaders do to shift deeply held mental models about what success looks and sounds like in post high school learning and work experiences.

So, what am I and will I be reading?  There are a number of books on my table that have been accumulating dust that have now moved from a pile to a place where I will use them.  The first is the three laws of performance by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan.  That will be followed in an undetermined order by Renewal Coaching by Reeves and Allison, Habit by Duhigg, Join the Club by Rosenberg, and TheThird Teacher.  Oh, Nancy has also directed me to read Pathways to the Common Corem ., but I’m still waiting for a deadline before starting.

Please let me know when you come across a good leadership book because there is always room for one more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reflecting on leadership models . . .

Dan McCarthy on a post at Great Leadership shared what he sees as 10 Essential Leadership models.  His post provides links to the models.  Being a student of leadership I was interested in what he chose.  Here are his ten.
  • ·         Situation Leadership – Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey
  • ·         Servant Leadership – Robert Greenleaf
  • ·         Blake and Moute’s Leadership Grid
  • ·         Emotional Leadership- Daniel Goleman
  • ·         Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership – Kouzes and Posner
  • ·         Level Five Leadership – Jim Collins
  • ·         The Diamond Model of Leadership – Jim Clawson
  • ·         Six Leadership Passages – Charon, Drotter, And Noel
  • ·         Authentic Leadership – Bill George
  • ·         The GROW Model – Sir John Whitmore 

Of these I have read books about all but the Leadership Grid and The GROW Model.  Situational Leadership is an older model that I first learned about in graduate school and is one that has had an influence on my leadership beliefs and behavior.  It is on my bookcase today.  Servant Leadership was introduced to me through the work of Sergiovanni and it too continues to be an influence on my work.  The same is true for Goleman and Collins work; both continue to provide me with reflection and learning opportunities.  One of my professional goals is to achieve Level 5 status as defined by Collins.

There are others that have influenced who I am, how I think, and how I behave.  One of those is Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline and his system work.  It is at the foundation of my beliefs on barriers to communication and the need for shared vision if one wants to create change that sustains over time.  Another model from industry is Tichy’s, The Cyclof Leadership and still another is Heifetz’s, The Practice of AdaptiveLeadership.  Other models come from those working in the education field such as Fullan, Wagner, Reeves, and Dufour.

I’ll leave you with the same ending question that McCarthy shared in his post.  What leadership model has served you the best?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Choosing leadership in Olympia . . .

Our candidates for Governor met last week in their first debate with both saying that they would attempt to increase public funding by $1 billion in their first budget.  Though they disagreed on the super majority for raising taxes and charter schools, they both see the need for increasing public school operating budgets.

In case you missed it, there is a recap of the debate in this Seattle Times article.

But when it came to education funding, which is called out in the state Constitution as the "paramount duty" of the state, Inslee and McKenna seemed largely in agreement.

A recent state Supreme Court decision found the state has been failing to fulfill that constitutional obligation to schools.

Both gubernatorial candidates, when pressed by the moderator, public-radio correspondent Austin Jenkins, said they would try to find an additional $1 billion for schools to ensure the state is doing its duty.

Sounds great, but how can they do it without raising taxes as both suggested they would not do.  My sense is that the current governor and the legislators that just spent months on a supplemental budget package would have increased our budget if possible.  The best that they could do, which we were pleased with, was to stop the bleeding from the previous budget cuts by balancing the budget through cuts in other programs.

Given the current economic projections there is little likelihood that revenues will increase at anywhere near the rate to ensure this or any other increase in our budgets.  As I understand it, the next session of the legislature, the new governor’s first, will start with a revenue shortfall.  So, is this pledge a reality or is it playing politics?  The choice between the candidates, if one wants education funding to be a deciding factor, was reduced in the first debate.  They both promise more money, but can they deliver?

Taking out funding leaves charter schools as a deciding factor with McKenna supportive of implementing a charter package and Inslee against it.  The response follows traditional party lines and will reinforce Inslee’s support with WEA, something that McKenna already knew was not going to be available to him.

"I am going to try to put a billion in the next budget, or more, for education," Inslee said. Charter schools, he said, would only pull money away from public schools, and he added that his education plan calls for new grants for innovation in existing schools.

But McKenna said Inslee was being misleading, since the charter schools also would be public. While not a panacea, "they should be part of the mix," McKenna said.

It just might be a choice that will be decided by issues other than public education.  What do you think will be the deciding factors in this race?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Celebrating 20 years . . .

On Friday evening the Rock Creek community celebrated birthday number twenty.  It is another reminder for me of how rapidly the years go by as I can remember many details of the process we used to staff the school and begin the Rock Creek journey.  Joan Watt, our first principal, set the stage for what has been an ongoing learning community journey focused on a culture of success.

As always, the PTA was a significant part of the evening with Joy Stramer, Jennifer Walker, and Carmen Lucero providing the vision and energy for the evening.  The multi-purpose room looked great and provided attendees with an opportunity to revisit the school's journey.  Many thanks to these individuals and the others that helped make this evening a success.  We also had a surprise visit from one of my favorite people, Michele Willson, who was principal at Rock Creek before Fritz.  She was warmly greeted by staff who have many positive memories of her leadership and support.

We were entertained by students from the school who shared their talents with Mr. Aaby providing entertaining MC services. The kids were great and and I learned that Taylor Swift has a huge following with girls at this age.  They were joined by staff members sharing their singing talent Mr. Sayan, Mrs. Rodriquez (also known as JRod), and Mrs. Folkerts and Mr. Gere dueling in Anything You Can Do.

Sitting through the celebration also brought up memories of the district's housing crisis at the time Rock Creek opened.  It is very similar to what we are experiencing today, though today's needs span more grade levels.  I'll share more of my reflections in a later post.  For now thanks to Rock Creek PTA and staff for this wonderful opportunity to celebrate this birthday.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

An uplifting evening . . .

This evening was the third night in a row and tomorrow brings another evening event.  At times during weeks like this it is difficult to maintain energy and focus.  Tonight, however, it was not difficult. I had a smile on my face the whole time as I watched our transition students be recognized during the second annual End of School Celebration.

Our transition program supports our special needs students through age 21.  Tonight, there were eight students being recognized for their individual achievements and for meeting the Certificate of Academic Achievement standards.  Our Transition Program staff are doing a wonderful job growing this program and preparing these young men and women for employment opportunities.

The following businesses provided job training for transition students this year.  Without their support we would not be able to meet the job skill needs for these young people.  Many thanks for their support.

Fit Girls Pilates Studio - Critter Queen Rabbit Rescue - Head Games Hair Salon - Seattle Mack Sales & Service - Salon Tiii Gavo - Iron Horse Truck Service - Tahoma Theater Program - Safeway (Covington and Maple Valley) - Wooden Feather Farms - Tahoma School District - Maple Valley Food Bank - Johnson's Do It Center - Fred Meyer - Lake Wilderness Arboretum - City of Maple Valley - Maple Valley Rotary - Pacific Outdoor Products - Meals on Wheels

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A special evening . . .

Valedictorian Julianne Reilly and Salutatorian Connor Durkin
Tonight was the 86th graduation celebration for Tahoma High School.  We had close to 500 students choosing to take part in this special evening and probably the largest crowd that I have seen in my twenty plus years of attending these events.  

I am so proud of these young people and the staff that have supported them on their Tahoma journey.  We are blessed to have great kids and they are blessed to have quality adults that are committed to creating learning environments that provide them with the opportunity to experience success.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Smarter, but still . . .

In November I did a post on my thoughts about Tennessee's new teacher evaluation model and they weren't very positive.  I was particularly concerned with the provision that 50% of every teacher's evaluation would be based on state test scores even if they did not teach in a content area that included a state test.  In those cases they could pick the content area to be included in their evaluation. 

I learned in this Education Week article that they may be getting smarter.  It seems that the governor commissioned a study of the work thus far and the group doing the work has recommended that those teachers in content areas without a state test, about two-thirds of the teachers in the state, should have only 25% of their evaluation based on state test scores.  This is a move in the right direction, but is it enough?  In this separate AP article I also learned that the state's Education Commissioner supports the recommendation and that the state department will be making other recommendations in July.  Maybe one of those will be to reduce the percentage further or simply remove it, but I doubt it based on the Commissioner Huffman's statement in the article.

"We are confident this work will improve the state's evaluation system," he said.

Not all in the state believe that the recommendation goes far enough.

Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said the state's largest teachers' union welcomes changes to the evaluation standards.

"The state knew all along that the lack of test data for the majority of teachers in the state was a huge weakness in the system, but they stubbornly moved forward with the evaluations this past year anyway," TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said in an email.

"The use of school-wide test data - evaluating teachers using the data of students they may not even teach - is a blatant mistake which raises major credibility issues," he said.

If you follow my blog you know that I am not happy with the decisions made by the legislators in the past session on teacher evaluation, but at least they did not specifically mandate how state test scores would be used in the evaluations.  They simply said that each district would bargain how to use some student achievement data in three of the evaluation criteria.  Sounds easy, but my experience suggests that this will become an issue in some systems and a decision that the legislators will choose to revisit as it plays into the waiver request from NCLB requirements.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

State performance audit report . . .

The State Auditor's office recently did a performance audit of all 295 school districts in the state focused on expenditures to determine how much each spends on teaching.  The office disagrees with OSPI data on the subject believing that they inflate the number by using "instructional support" expenditures in their calculation.  You can read about it on this Education Week report or go right to the auditors report here.

In the Education Week article a staff member gave this reason for doing the audit.

The state auditor decided to do this performance review because taking a closer look at education spending has been repeatedly identified by citizens and lawmakers as a high priority, said department spokeswoman Mindy Chambers. About 43 percent of the state budget is spent on K-12 education.

The performance audit objectives were to:
• Compare Washington’s education spending with other states.
• Compare education spending among Washington school districts.
• Identify major non-instructional cost drivers.
• Document how school districts reported they control non-instructional spending.
• Make school district demographic, spending, and achievement data available in a user-friendly format.

T o give you a context for the information here are some charts from the report.  The first shows the revenue sources for education dollars in our state.  It shows how the state cuts over the last few years are being replaced by local levy dollars with the state contribution decreasing from 71% to 64% and the local increasing from 20% to 22%.

The second chart compares the average percent spent on teaching in Washington to the average in the country.  We lag a little behind, but are closing the gap.

The final chart shows our district in comparison to what the auditor has identified as like districts.  A statistical analysis was done that placed each district into one of 37 peer groups based on enrollment, free and reduced lunch count, and special education enrollment.  We compare favorable in this peer group and are above the state average on the percentage spent on teaching.  Also included in the report are suggestions for districts on how to cut costs in non-teaching areas.  We are reviewing our data in light of these suggestions to see what opportunities are available to adjust our expenditures.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gearing up for college and career ready . . .

We had our first meeting last night of an ad-hoc committee commissioned by the board to look at how well we are preparing all of our graduates for success in post high school learning and work. It is a good mix of staff and community members, but we still need to find a way to get the student voice in the room.  Meeting in the evening during the summer months is not something they see as fun.

Below, is the guiding question for our work.

How do we partner with our community to ensure that ALL Tahoma High School graduates leave with a plan that provides options for success in post high school learning and work?

As a part of this work we are exploring the mental model held by many adults that the only path to success is through a four year university degree.  Our task is to craft a vision that forces people to examine this mental model and become knowledgeable about aligning learning opportunities with career goals.  It may sound easy, but the work will be difficult because we are challenging long held beliefs and assumptions.  Changing culture is always difficult and risky work.  But, we are committed to it because we know that not all graduates leave our system with a focused plan that has options for them to consider as they make life decisions on a career.

We shared a number of readings with the committee and also had a guest speaker, Steve Hanson, President of Renton Technical College.  Steve shared data and information that caused dissonance for some and that was affirming for others.  One of the slides that he shared is copied below.

He believes that it captures the issues that college students and graduates are facing in today's world where one out of two 2011 graduates is either unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are working in a job that does not require their college education.  We also reviewed the issue of college debt that now is greater than credit card debt at about $1 trillion dollars.

We know that the majority of jobs of the future and all jobs that pay a living wage will require learning beyond high school.  In the slide below Steve reinforced this, but shared with us that there are multiple pathways for securing these jobs that require us to examine our current mental models.  Being able to broaden our thinking as he and others suggest is at the core of our work as we learn and provide the board with guidance on how to proceed.

Our high school has already embraced this need coining the phrase Future ready.  Terry share with us some of the work currently underway to better align with meeting the needs of ALL graduates.  He stressed how this is not a high school issue and it can't be changed in three grade levels.  It is a community issue and we will need their support to change the prevailing mental model and to implement adaptive solutions.

Below, are links to the readings we gave committee members.

Here is another that Steve shared with me this morning.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Following up . . .

Rob shared this picture of Kim and Nancy receiving the plaque that recognizes the Junior High as one of the inaugural winners of the Federal Education Department's Green Ribbon Schools competition.  I blogged about the award here.

Recognizing our employees . . .

This evening at the board meeting we honored those retiring from our system and those receiving recognition for 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 years of service to young people in the Tahoma School District.  Unfortunately, not all attend as some prefer to be honored in their school or department.  For those that are able to attend, it is an opportunity for our board to share their appreciation for the dedication and commitment that they have made.

Below, are two of the  three staff members that will be retiring at the end of this school year.  Paula is a teacher at Glacier Park and Terry is the nurse at Glacier Park.  Our third retiree, Linda Osbourne who could not attend works at Cedar River in the kitchen.  Thanks to all three for being a part of our school system and best wishes as they move into the next chapter of their lives.

Paula Emery and Terry Long, Not Pictured Linda Osbourne
I want to also recognize Ann Fletcher, District Reading Coordinator, for her 40 years of service in our system.  I have had the good fortune to know and work with Ann during this time.  She is a model of what one would want to aspire to as a public school educator.  She is an expert in her field and a driven advocate for those young people who struggle with literacy.  Over time, she has implemented quality intervention programs and provided training and support that has resulted in a team of paraprofessionals with high levels of knowledge and skills.  Our reading program and the success that we have experienced is the product of Ann's leadership and commitment.  When I picture a professional educator I see Ann.

Monday, June 4, 2012

National recognition day . . .

Today was the day that the National Green Schools were recognized in Washington D.C. by Secretary Duncan. As I have shared before, our Tahoma Junior High was one of the 78 schools that received this honor, the first of its kind. Representing the school at this event were Kim McHenry and Nancy Skerritt. I just happened to find the photo below that shows Nancy and Kim listening to the Secretary’s comments. They were able to also attend sessions to learn from others that I might just ask them to share in a guest post on this blog.

In this post from the department’s blog Homeroom, we learn that the next round of competition will be this winter when schools can apply at the state level for submittal to the federal department for national recognition. We certainly have additional schools that should be submitting an application this winter.

Below is the write-up for TJH that appeared in the document released by the department to highlight the winning schools accomplishments.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Waiver update . . .

Last week the education department approved eight more states waiver applications from No Child Left Behind requirements.  Counting the eleven states that were granted waivers earlier that leaves an additional eighteen states including Washington with waiver applications not yet granted.  Whether our state is successful or not will not have consequences for us in the short term because we don't have schools in position for take over.  Before that could happen NCLB should be replaced by legislation that makes more sense and is better aligned with what we learned is necessary on our Cincinnati trip.  The decision will, however, tell us how aligned we are with what the federal education department expects from states as they make available funding for the next round of Race to the Top.  No waiver would mean don't bother to apply.