Sunday, September 29, 2013

A necessary move . . .

At Getting Smart I learned about an update to blended learning called “Blended Learning Implementation Guide Version 2.0.”  I see blended learning as a very viable delivery model today and a necessary model to meet student and family needs in the future.  It must become part of our comprehensive curriculum delivery just as we currently have on-line models to meet specific student needs.

We have some experience, but need to do more as we move our Future Ready initiative forward.  Designing and implementing blended classes that align with our learning priorities is more difficult than purchasing on-line credit retrieval classes.  It will take a commitment of time and financial resources to bring this delivery model to our students.

Below is an infographic from digitallearningnow that identifies components of implementing a blended learning model.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blog post feedback . . .

First, thanks to the board members and Dawn for sharing a comment on my Sunday post about our learning journey with the board.  Getting comments is rewarding to me as it suggests that something I have put out for others to consider was worthy of a response.  The comments capture the importance of the focus that we have created around capacity to engage deeply on issues of importance to the school system.

Another rewarding experience related to my blog is when an organization will use excerpts in their magazines.  This has happened a number of times with the latest in the October 13th issue of School Administrator from AASA.  They must have someone that actually reads member blogs looking for excerpts that they feel might generate some feedback and conversation.  Best of the Blogs for this month is shown below.  I guess I'm fortunate that they used that part of the post and not one where I share more private thoughts about the mandated teacher evaluation process.

Monday, September 23, 2013

City takes welcome action . . .

This evening the Maple Valley City Council took action on a resolution to support our bond measure.  They join the Chamber of Commerce in recognizing the role that the school district plays in the vision they have for the city.  Our new high school proposal and the Future Ready initiative are aligned with the city vision and enhance the effort to bring diversified employers to the area.

Many people came out to share their support of the resolution with at least fifteen signing up to urge the council to unanimously pass the resolution.  It passed with all seven council members voting yes.  We shared our appreciation for the vote and commitment to our school system with a standing ovation.  There was a positive feeling in the room that was different than what I felt with our 2011 failed bond measure.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

One more last . . .

From time-to-time as I get closer to my last day as superintendent of this school district I will continue to share those experiences that will be difficult to replicate in the future.  One of those took place this weekend as I attended my last board retreat, something that has been an annual experience for me for over thirty years.  For over the last twenty years of that time I have had the opportunity and shared responsibility for choosing the content and supporting the processes used to explore issues in greater detail than can be accomplished in regular meetings.

These retreats have provided me with some of my most rewarding experiences and also with some of my most troubling as board members and central office administrators engage in conversation on critical issues.  Each year we begin with teaching and sharing some of our communication tools that have contributed to this team's capacity to engage and sustain these necessary conversations.  This year we reviewed the iceberg from the systems work and introduced a new tool, the U process from Otto Scharmer's work.

We used these and other tools to assist us in identifying our current reality as it relates to how we interact with each other and to then describe an aspiration of how we want our interactions to look and sound.  Our current reality contained many positive descriptors that captured the growth that we have made, but also some significant issues that result in "interpersonal mush" and the negative energy drain that accompanies it.  At a future work study we will continue the work by identifying additional, specific strategies and tools to close the gap that we identified and chose to become a focus of our work.

I have great admiration for our current board.  They bring a diversity of experiences and talents to the work and are eager to improve our individual and collective capacity for system leadership.  Unlike many boards that experience regular turnover, we have always enjoyed stability.  Ours is an experienced board that can be proud of the system they have created, but also a board that finds itself at a critical point in time as they and we come closer to our bond election date.  This experience will be helpful regardless of the bond's outcome.

My last retreat was rewarding for me as we shared private thoughts around our interactions, put private and difficult issues in the room, and maintained a focus on the issues not the person.  The conversations will influence the quality of later conversations as these issues become action items at future board meetings.  I would like to thank Annette, Dawn, Lori, Mark, and Rob for their interactions throughout this retreat and for their support in planning, sharing, and facilitating.

More importantly I would like to thank Mary Jane Glaser, Bill Clausmeyer, Didem Pierson, Tami Henkel, and Tim Adam for another learning opportunity and for the support that they have given to me over time.  I value our time together and want all to know how fortunate we are that these five individuals choose to be on our board.  They are focused on what is important; creating learning environments that support quality learning every day in every classroom and that position our graduates for success in post high school learning and work.  Thank you for allowing me to be part of this learning experience.

Yes, for me this was another quality experience.  I was given another chance to teach and left with a deeper understanding of what I can do to decrease the possibility for "interpersonal mush" to form on our team.

I would welcome and believe that the readers of this blog would also appreciate a comment about your experience from any of you that shared this experience with me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Learning from the Roundtable . . .

This morning was the first meeting of the year for the PTA Roundtable, a monthly meeting of representatives from each of our PTA's, School Board, Kevin Patterson, TEA, me, and Rob joining the conversations this year.  It formed over twenty years ago when I became superintendent and started our learning journey.  The first group of people I invited to a meeting were the PTA Presidents at the time.  The "Roundtable"  started with that first meeting and has sustained over time thanks to people like Ada McBride who has served as facilitator for a number of years.  I also learned this morning that coming together like this is not the norm in other school systems, suggesting that this may be another example of the Tahoma way with our deep belief in collaboration.

I have great admiration and respect for those that assume PTA leadership positions.  They are tireless workers for young people and teachers seeking nothing in return.  My attempt this morning to share my appreciation and suggest that they did not get the thanks that they deserve was pushed back with we don't do it for thanks.

An obvious topic of discussion this morning was the bond measure.  Many in the room shared their thinking and experiences with others in the community and I shared my concern with lack of a sense of urgency in the community.  This was then correctly directed right back at me with examples of community meetings not attended by administrators and with few teachers in attendance.  The point being made was why would the community be concerned if staff who will directly benefit by a successful bond measure are not visibly present supporting the measure.  In addition, stories were shared of staff members engaging in conversations where they shared that they would be voting no.

We have over 800 employees in our system.  This morning's conversation created dissonance for me as I wonder about the number who make the decision to actively support the measure, those that have little to no engagement, and those that choose to share their decision to vote no.  I can make assumptions about why staff members do not engage or would actively oppose the bond measure, but I would rather hear what the mental models are that result in this decision.  There is much we can learn about our system culture if we had the opportunity for skillful conversations.

The conversation this morning forced me to look inside our system before focusing on what may be a problem in the community.  It was a good learning experience for me that will influence my behavior.  Any thoughts on the mental models staff might hold that result in any of the three behavior choices above?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bond conversations . . .

I have shared our bond story with the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce since I posted last week and shared my concern with balance in the presentation.  I have also attended two VOTE Committee planning meetings and met with the Seattle Alliance to discuss the new high school planning and constuction process.  Focus on the bond measure is escalating for me and for many of you as we approach the November 5th election date

So, what am I learning from these conversations?  In the two most recent presentations, those in attendance see the connection between our quality school system and the health and growth of the larger community.  One would expect this as the majority of the attendees are business people.  Many see the bond not as another tax, but as an investment in the future of the community that will pay dividends down the road through increased business opportunities and a healthy community.

In VOTE Committee planning meetings I am observing a small number of dedicated people assume responsibility for passing this measure by educating the community to our needs and how the proposed bond vision will allow us to build upon what is already a good school system.  Through these presentations and conversations I find myself on a roller coaster of emotions, sometimes feeling very positive and at other times very concerned with our capacity to create a sense of urgency and the understanding needed for an informed vote.

I am interested in what you are learning and feeling as you engage with others in the community.  Please consider sharing your thoughts and feelings in a comment to this post.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Developing leadership capacity . . .

Today, we had the opportunity to support leadership teams from the Junior High, Glacier Park, and Tahoma Middle School.  Over the next two days we will have the same opportunity with our other schools and a Special Services Leadership Team.  These are for me energizing and rewarding days as we support these teams on their learning journeys.  It will be one of the opportunities that I will miss the most as I transition in my life.

One of our learning targets for the day is focused on creating deeper understanding of an additional component of our Classroom 10 learning practices, success criteria.  These can be found in Criterion 1, 3, and 6 of the state framework.  Our second learning target for the day is focused on increasing the knowledge base and skill set of those in leadership positions in planning for and facilitating efficient and effective meetings.

In the afternoon of these days, teams are given the time for reflection on the morning's learning and planning as they identify the leverage points to support growth at the building level.  To support understanding of success criteria and use of the planning time, we identified a learning target for the team that can be used to assess their efficiency and effectiveness in using the time to support their learning journey.

A third component of the work for the day is to revisit the team's Current Reality/Aspiration Map that was developed during the August Retreat.  The purpose is to place the team in a position to be reflective about what has taken place to close the gap, what future strategies and structures have the greatest likelihood of closing the gap, and whether the aspiration continues to be the primary focus of their leadership work.  The Teaching and Learning map found below is an example of this work.

I believe that for change to scale across a grade level, department, or building and sustain over time, those in leadership positions must identify their current reality and create clarity around a shared aspiration.  This framework then provides the information necessary to identify the structures and strategies with the potential to close the gap in practice between their current reality and that preferred place described in the shared aspiration.

Can you identify the Aspiration identified for your building?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hoping for the football trifecta, plus . . .

I'm sitting at home waiting for the BIG game to start, yes that is right, at home not at the game.  More on that later.  The Bears won big on Thursday against Bethel and yesterday the Huskies took care of business against Illinois.  Now, it is time for the Hawks to make it a perfect weekend of football for me.  I'm thinking good thoughts and deciding if I'll wait to post until after the game or push the button and then enjoy the game.

Ok, now for the "plus" part of the post and why I'm not at the game.  Friday night we attended a wedding rehearsal plus dinner and last night we attended the wedding of our son and his beautiful new bride.  As part of our gift, we provided the honeymoon package at the Seattle Hilton until they head for Las Vegas tomorrow morning.  And, yes, I gave up my ticket so that they could attend the game this evening.  Now, that was a sacrifice, but well worth it.  They are great kids!

So, my daughter and her husband and my son and his new wife are at the game ready to lend their voices to a new world record noise level at a sporting event.  And me?  Well I'm at home lounging in front of the TV thinking about the thunder I heard earlier and listening to Al Michaels set the stage for the big one.  My Grandson is next to me and Granddaughter across the room.  Not bad after all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sharing our story . . .

As Superintendent I have multiple opportunities to share our story with community organizations.  Though I would much prefer to share our learning journey, the current need is to convey to the members of these organizations the over crowded conditions in our schools and the vision leading to the proposed bond measure.

These are important opportunities that require a balance of information delivered in between twenty and thirty minutes.  In that time we must create a rationale that will resonate with the listeners of why we need additional capacity and how the bond measure will meet our capital project needs.  We must also share the major projects included in the proposal and walk the tightrope of the options being considered if we are unable to increase our student housing capacity.  Sounds simple, but it takes many hours to find that necessary balance in the allotted time.

I am finding it more difficult this time to find that balance and thank my central office colleagues for listening, providing feedback, and suggestions as we get ready for the morning Rotary presentation.  I want to share with you that we are starting by answering the question of why we are in our current over crowded state.  The message we want to convey is that our academic success is the driver for our current reality.  The over crowded conditions are a byproduct of this success.  Below, are a couple of the slides we are using to convey this message.

With this recognition and the quality communities in our school system families see ours as a desirable place to live and raise a family.  New students results in a growing enrollment that we have for years accommodated with a 1997 bond measure and by adding portables.  Our lack of success in passing subsequent bond measures leaves us in our current over crowded conditions.  If we had not experienced the academic success and ratings such as those above, we would not find ourselves asking the community to support a bond measure.  Though these are difficult times and this is a very large request, I much prefer our current reality to the one that would result from less success and no ratings.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Big day for charters in our state . . .

Today, members of the Washington State Board of Education voted to approve the Spokane School District's charter authorizer application making them the first district in the state to gain this authority.  In an earlier post I shared how Spokane was the only district out of the thirteen that indicated an interest to actually apply.  I learned about the vote in a post by Live Finne from the Washington Policy Center, a major supporter of the the initiative granting charter school status in the state.

“Today is a historic day for the board,” said board member Cindy McMullen. “We have approved Spokane as the first school district charter authorizer. The board conducted a rigorous review process and found Spokane’s application to be of very high quality.”

“It is very important that charter schools be done well,” explained Acting Chair Mary Jean Ryan. “Spokane has demonstrated commitment to and passion for creating a portfolio of choice options for students, particularly at-risk populations. They have a clear and compelling vision for chartering that is well aligned with the purpose of Washington’s charter school law, and have shown themselves well-prepared to be a quality authorizer.”

This is certainly a big day for charter school supporters.  It will be interesting to see how Spokane moves forward with this authority; how schools form, the focus of their efforts to support at risk students, and the number and pace of authorization.  As of now the only other organization with the capacity to authorize is the Washington Charter School Commission.

We also need to keep in mind the lawsuit that was filed by a coalition with WEA in the lead that claims charter schools violate the state constitution.  I haven't seen any updates on the status of the suit and would be interested if anyone has additional information.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Leadership and change . . .

I ended my last post sharing my thinking that our work is focused on change and the important role that leaders play in creating a culture where change is expected and demanded of the adults to meet the needs of our young people.  We have learned a lot about the change process over time and how difficult it is to implement and sustain at scale.  Asking those we support to examine their beliefs, to reflect on why and how they make decisions in the classroom and with colleagues, and to consider suspending the assumptions that they hold to be open to considering another way is not always easy, but it is necessary.

I have come to understand that individually we must become conscious of what drives our own behavior and be willing to let go in order to crack the door to a possible change.  In our work, we are asking teachers to consider an aspiration that describes for many a different way, a new road to a possible better place for our young people and for them.  Leaders must initiate and guide the conversations and experiences needed to crack the door and fill the space with the beginning of a shared aspiration that can close the gap between current reality and that new place.  It is this gap that can result in creative tension, that force that drives learning and the collaborative effort necessary for adaptive change.  It is this tension that also produces the experiences over time necessary for those involved in the change to experience, to see, hear, and feel how that change can create a better outcome for young people and for those engaged in the change initiative. In the absence of these experiences the change initiative will not take root and sustain over time, another challenge for those in leadership positions.

As Fullan says in Motion Leadership, the effort is not about discussing change, but about getting into it.  He tells the readers to beware of plans.  It is more about prototyping, trying things out and coming together to examine the data and make decisions on those structures that are supportive of positive movement and those that need to be discarded.  This is our current reality and I'm looking forward to continuing our leadership journey next week with the building leadership teams.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A good start . . .

I jokingly tell people when asked about the start of the school year that it was a good opening, I received no transportation complaints and had only one parent issue.  All of that is true, but there is much more that made this a good opening and that started with the observations of principals sharing their message for the new year.

Unfortunately, most buildings start on the same day so I wasn't able to  see all of them, but I was pleased with those that I was able to observe.  Though they may not have followed all the recommendations of Presentation Zen there were no death by power point presentations.  More importantly, they shared a message that included their beliefs, what is important to them, and what they want for the young people and adults in their building.

When preparing the message, it places the principal in a position of being reflective, an important capacity for those in leadership positions.  When delivering the message, it provides their colleagues with insights that make the leader's behavior more transparent and also places them in a position to be reflective about their own beliefs and how aligned they are with those of the principal.  I encourage all in positions of leadership, that would be all of us, to reflect on our beliefs, to identify what influences our behavior and the choices we make, and to share these with others on our leadership teams(s).  

Early in my career I went from issue-to-issue and didn't understand the need for reflection.  Over time, I have come to understand and value the insights that I gain from reflection on my practice and the learning journey that we are on.  I believe that the capacity to reflect individually and collectively is a contributor to our success and will continue to practice it and build it into our work.

Another insight from my reflections of the opening is that what we are asking is for all of us to reflect on our current practice and move towards an aspiration that is a better place.  In some cases like instructional practice we have our Classroom 10 vision and documents to bring clarity to the work.  In other places like leadership, we have our skills, tools and other documents, but there is still the need for greater clarity.  In other places like those with a focus on culture, we have documents, but creating clarity is proving more difficult.

In essence, we are asking all of us to consider CHANGES to close the gap between our current reality and a vision of what is possible when the CHANGES are in place.  It is the responsibility of those in leadership positions to move this aspiration to a shared vision and to create the culture where the change is desired and sustains over time.  I'll share more about this important work in the next post as this one is probably longer than most of the readers will persevere through.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A win . . .

Yes, it is that time of year again; FOOTBALL!  Our Bears started their season this evening with Kent Meridian visiting Maxwell Stadium.  It started off with the Bears running the opening kick off into the end zone from 96 yards out and didn't let up from there as they prevailed 51 to 6.  They looked good on both sides of the ball and especially good in the passing game with multiple 20+ yard catches.

One of many kick offs for the Bears
If you want to support the football program, the Football Boosters have arranged with Hop Jacks for an evening of great food that generates revenue for the program.  Please consider dining on September 10th or taking home a delicious meal sometime between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m.  You can use the coupon below to take advantage of this collaboration with a local business.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A prediction . . .

I like this blog post by Michael Petrilli at EDUCATIONnext focused on high-stakes teacher evaluation.  In it, he wonders what future scholars will say about it when they review the history of this reform movement.

. . .future historians are far likelier to wonder about the motivation behind the evaluation obsession. Was this a policy designed to identify, and remove, America’s least effective teachers? Or was it a kinder-and-gentler effort to provide critical feedback to instructors so they could improve their craft?

Much of his post is about our state because of the recent letter to OSPI from the federal education department placing the state on "high risk status" of losing the NCLB waiver due to what they see as inadequacies in our evaluation model.  Those perceived inadequacies in our model are what I believe allow us to place a focus on teacher growth and not removal of poor teachers.  When high-stake assessments are used in the evaluation process and potentially in compensation models maintaining that growth focus becomes more difficult.

Petrilli also argues that there is little likelihood in our state that any mandated change will result in significant change to evaluation results and possible removal of teachers.

. . . Even if the Evergreen State develops a well-designed system, will principals there be willing to give low marks to ineffective teachers? And will school leaders be able to push those instructors out of the classroom?

Doubtful. Washington’s teacher-tenure protections will remain in place, as will collective bargaining agreements, both of which guarantee extensive “due process” rights. And regardless of Arne Duncan’s exhortations, there’s no way that labor-friendly Washington is going to make it significantly easier to fire bad teachers (at least those who have already earned tenure).

Here’s a prediction: Whatever Olympia policymakers come up with, most teachers will continue to receive positive ratings and nearly all will cling to their jobs. Why? Why not. If you’re a school principal, why give a teacher a bad rating if you know you still can’t remove her from the classroom? 

In the short term we will maintain our focus on teacher growth while we observe who will have the most leverage in the next legislative session, the reformers wanting high-stakes assessment use or those advocating for a growth model that doesn't require the use of those same assessments.  I believe that there is a need for and a place for using all assessment data in public education accountability.  I do not, however, believe that the results of one assessment should have a significant influence on the overall evaluation of a teacher.  That data could and should influence what happens at the classroom, school, and system level and should be used to hold schools and school systems accountable for achievement of ALL students.  I am open, however, to looking at a growth model and/or some form of support/intervention when there is a pattern over time in a classroom of student achievement below the norm for that grade level or department.

What are your thoughts about Petrilli's prediction?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Legislators respond . . .

In this earlier post , I shared the struggle that a team of legislators was having reaching agreement on a mandated response to the State Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary case.  In this Crosscut piece we learn that they met the deadline by leaving out components that  the other party found troubling.  The result was a report that simply reviewed how the session put about $1 billion into public education.

Republicans and Democrats always agreed on the basic facts and figures. But their work on the report stalled last week as they argued over how to put those figures into context to the Supreme Court. Also last week, the committee's four Democrats proposed asking the Supreme Court to clarify what the overall fix-it plan should generally look like and to define what "progress" means as the Legislature tackles interim steps on a long-term fix. The Democrats also wanted to ask for guidance on how teachers' salaries fit in the constitutional picture.
The questions were ultimately left out of the report.

Superintendent Dorn responded to the filing with a short press release calling the legislator's 2013 actions "incomplete."

On Tuesday, the state Legislature submitted a report to the state Supreme Court about their progress to fully fund basic education by 2018. I grade their efforts as “incomplete.”
During the 2013 legislative session, I said – repeatedly – that to get our state on the path to fully funding education by 2018, the Legislature should add $4 billion to education spending in the 2013-15 biennium. And at the minimum, a $1.4 billion increase would be a very small deposit.

The Legislature fell short: They chose to increase the education budget by less than $1 billion.

Tom Ahearne, lead attorney for the coalition that won the case, believes the actions taken by the 2013 legislature did not go far enough as seen in this The Columbian report about the Court response.

"I think they are doing what they think they can get away with," said attorney Tom Ahearne. "The court is going to have to decide if we are just going to sit back and do nothing or are we going to be vigilant and make sure the constitution is enforced.

What really matters is how the Court responds to the decisions made in the 2013 session.  Are they making adequate progress to full funding as mandated by the court?  The Court's answer to that question will set the stage for the 2014 session and influence future funding of our learning journey.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Something to remember . . .

As we start another school year I want to share this short video from Simple Truths.  My brother in law recently shared it with me and as soon as I saw the title I remembered seeing it at an earlier time.  It is a wonderful reminder of the importance of balance in our lives and ensuring that we make room for the big things.  Click on the link above and give it the three minutes.