Monday, June 30, 2014

The real last . . .

Today was my last contract day as superintendent of our school district.  Once again, I want to thank the many people who attended events and shared with me their appreciation for my contributions to our learning journey over the years.  I leave the position feeling good about what we accomplished and better about those I leave who will continue our journey.  We have a quality school board, strong building leadership teams, and central office leadership led by Rob to support future learning and the many transitions made possible by the new high school.

After 1180 posts and 139,312 total page views I am putting my blog on hold.  At some point I will probably start again as I'm already feeling the tension when I read my RSS feeds.  One goal I didn't make was to reach 100 members falling short by eight.  That tension adds to the possibility of starting again in the future. So, keep me in your feed and watch for a return, probably about legislative time when there will be much to think about.

One last thing is to share my tattoo.  I've had this for a number of years thanks to a birthday present from my son.  It captures how I see myself and what I will always be, Papa Bear!  I am proud to wear it and look forward to having an opportunity next year to support the journey in a small way.  Thanks to Rob and the Board for believing that I still have something to add.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The last week . . .

It was an eventful week that went by in a flash. Tuesday, I had the opportunity to facilitate a meeting bringing together people from city and county government, workforce development, the business community, higher education, and district staff to determine if there was a common aspiration for a continuing conversation related to the development of the property around the new high school.  We shared our aspiration and the city shared their hopes that are completely aligned with ours.  Others in the room did some processing resulting in unanimous support for continuing the conversation.  This is an important, loosely coupled, but growing coalition with great potential for bringing living wage jobs to the community.

On Wednesday I was given the opportunity to speak at the TenTech Conference, something I did at the very first conference were I also taught a blogging class.  I shared my thinking on a variety of topics ending with a challenge to the system to identify and change the mental models that keep us from exploring other delivery models such as blended learning, extended day, and more personalized learning opportunities.  Over time young people and families will be demanding options and more flexibility and we need to get in front of this trend.  I enjoyed the opportunity to share and received some positive feedback.

Yesterday I attended a PBIS conference with a district team and then an E3 Summer evening where I joined others in being recognized for our work on sustainability.  In my case it was supporting people like Nancy and teachers in developing our curriculum, Connie Jo and others who pioneered the building efforts, and Lori, Kevin, and Dawn who got us on the map locally, in the state, and in the nation.  We learned that at the district level we actually outscored the district winner for the Green School award, but could not be recognized because we don't have a high enough free and reduced lunch count. Looks like next year will be the year.

Finally today was one of more tearful good byes, ceremonial disposal of my office chair, and a final gathering at Lori's house for more thanks and good byes.

So much to be thankful for and so many people to thank.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Winding down . . .

For a number of weeks now people have been asking me how many days I have left and I honestly say not keeping count.  Knowing that the 30th is my last day and that today is the 22nd makes it easy and impossible to hide from this being the last week.  I have come to emotionally accept this decision that has been much more difficult than I anticipated.  It is time and I am confident that our transition plan and the leadership that will come from Rob, Board members, Lori as Assistant Superintendent, and his team will carry our school system to places we now only aspire to reach.

Though this final week has three evening meetings, I will be winding down with probably fewer posts as I approach the 30th.  I have decided to mothball Seeking Shared Learning with the possibility to once again post in the future.  I'm going to now spend some time learning about LinkedIn and look for some work to fill some of my days.  Know anyone looking for a leadership journey?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A difficult, but memorable week . . .

Those that know me understand how difficult it is for me to be the focus of praise and thanks.  I would much rather be in the background until it is time to thank those that do the real work of the system. With my retirement now less than two weeks away, this was the week for those events kind of events to take place. It started with the Maple Valley Days Parade where I had the honor of being the Grand Marshall. Though not looking forward to it, I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the many children on the parade route.

It continued on Monday at an open house where many came to share their appreciation and engage with others that have shared our experiences.  It was a rewarding evening for me as I was showered with thanks and gifts that included an unbelievable trip to Washington DC with tickets to Monday Night Football where the Hawks take on the Redskins.  I was also blessed to have previous board members and mentors from my past attend to congratulate me and share stories.

This was followed on Tuesday with a gift from the Board and then today at the Chamber of Commerce meeting.  I think with school ending today and only one more evening meeting before the 30th these events are behind me.  I can now begin fading into the background as the days count down.

In reflecting, I must admit that each of these events will be memorable for me and I give thanks to the many that attended and to those that planned the events.  Each was at the same time a humbling and rewarding experience.  I think I did OK and know that more pictures were taken of me this week than in the previous 44 years here.  So much to be thankful for and so many to thank.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A waiver request . . .

I was informed today that OSPI will be requesting a waiver of the 14-day Public School Choice Notification letter scheduled to be mailed this August to all parents informing them that we did meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements of NCLB.  The same letter will be mailed to almost every parent in the state because the federal education department repealed our ESEA waiver when the legislature failed to require the use of state assessment data in teacher evaluations.

The reason for the request as identified in the letter to be mailed later this week is below.  I was notified because of the requirement to notify public school districts of the request and to provide for a comment period prior to submitting the official request.

Washington State seeks a waiver of this provision because:
a.           The majority of schools in Washington (with the exception of a handful of very small schools) will not meet the 100 percent Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement this year. As a result, nearly every school in every district will be designated as in improvement and required to send a letter to the family of every student notifying them of the status of their school.
b.           The intent of the 14-day notification letter is to provide public school choice to families living within the boundaries of a (Step 1–5) school in order to allow them to move to a school that had met AYP. Public School Choice is now a moot point since there will be an extremely limited number of schools that would be available.

Thanks to Superintendent Dorn and staff for this waiver request.  Though it doesn't remove the onerous requirements of NCLB, if successful, it puts off for a year the need to mail a letter that does not accurately describe the current reality of our schools.  If the federal department does not grant this request, I can only assume that they want to once again punish us for not conforming to their one size fits all reform model.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

State Supreme Court takes next step . . .

In this April post, I shared the legislature's response to the State Supreme Court requirement to demonstrate they have a viable plan to fully fund education by 2017.  We knew with the filing that it would fall short of the Court's expectation and last week it was verified with the Court's response. From this Seattle Times article we learn that there is the possibility for contempt if the Court's demands are not met.

The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ordered lawmakers to explain why they haven’t followed its orders to fix the way Washington pays for public education.
The court has ordered the state to appear before it on Sept. 3 and show the court how it has followed its orders in the 2012 McCleary decision or face contempt.
We will find out on July 11th when they file their opening brief how the legislature will respond.  From this comment by Rep. Sullivan there may be little new to report since the next session will not convene until next January.  My sense is that the Court will need to take that into consideration when they meet in September, but the message will continue to be clear; full funding by 2017 and a clear funding plan by the end of the 2015 session.  Next year's legislators will face even more difficult decisions than they did this year.
“I don’t know of anyone who likes to be called into court,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “I’m disappointed that we are where we are.”
The most recent report to the court, filed at the end of April, acknowledged that the Legislature didn’t make a lot of progress in 2014, but said it had ideas for fixing that situation during the 2015 legislative session.
. . . Sullivan said lawmakers have fully anticipated they would need to solve the problem once the next legislative session begins in January.
“Regardless of what action the court does or doesn’t take, it doesn’t change what we have to do,” he said.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

More important than Gates . . .


I was next going to post about the Gates Foundation recommendation for a two year delay in using Common Core tests for teacher evaluation, but something far more important took place this evening. The Tahoma High School Class of 2014 walked across the stage at the White River Amphitheater and received their diplomas.  I was once again had the privilege of accepting the class and presenting them to the Board and presenting them for recognition by those in attendance.

So many things went through my mind as I experienced graduation this evening from the stage for the last time.  Above all the feelings was one of gratitude and pride.  Gratitude that I had the opportunity to have a small influence on these young people's experience in our schools and pride in their accomplishments individually and collectively.  I thank them and their families for this achievement in their lives and wish them success in their new learning and career experiences.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Interesting day for education . . .

I learned about two different, but somewhat related events that took place today with the potential for significant impact on our profession over time.  The first is the state court decision in the California v. Vergara suit by students and school districts where the court struck down laws protecting teacher tenure and last in first out (LIFO) decisions.  Expecting an appeal, the court ordered a stay on the decision.  The plaintiffs focused on state statutes they believe are in the way of all students receiving the guaranteed education under the state constitution.

 “Plaintiffs claim that the Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.”

You can go anywhere in the education blog world and find articles and commentary.  In this New York Times piece we read about reactions from both sides and get a sense of the court's decision in the words below.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

In this piece from Andy Smarick at FLYPAPER he shares 10 things to keep in mind as this case proceeds through the court system.  

6.  Like just about every groundbreaking decision, this one includes dramatic language to make its point (and likely help sustain the decision on appeal). “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

This case will be important to follow as it will open the door for similar suits in other states.  The provisions that were struck down by the court such as teacher tenure and last in first out (LIFO) are protections against what unions see as unfair personnel decisions made by building and district leaders and undoing them will not result in fixing the problems in schools.

“We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of American’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers. “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.”

Supporters of the lawsuit disagree and seem ready to help those in other states with a similar belief.

Observers on both sides expect the case to generate dozens more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate who financed the organization that is largely responsible for bringing the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — has indicated that his group is open to funding other similar legal fights, particularly in states with powerful teachers’ unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

The second event was an announcement by the Gates Foundation that they are recommending a two-year delay in linking Common Core test scores to teacher evaluation.  I'm wondering how their change in policy that ed to our state's waiver loss aligns with this new belief and whether Secretary Duncan is open to being influenced.  I'll share some thoughts in my next post.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Celebrating success . . .

This evening was one of those occasions that makes it all worth it to me.  We celebrated our Transition Program Graduation at Lake Wilderness Lodge.  Six young people shared their experiences with us as they celebrated this milestone with family, friends, staff, and the many businesses that support their learning and training needs.

Caralena, Melanie, Sean, Jordan, Colin, Skylar
We learned of their goals to find employment and of their many accomplishments on that journey. I was honored to be included in the celebration and given the privilege of awarding them their diploma. Thanks to the staff who support these young people and to the community organizations and businesses that provide them with meaningful learning and work opportunities.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Push back from another source . . .

I enjoyed reading this article in about college officials pushing back against the latest federal education initiative to rate colleges based on factors such as how many students graduate, how much debt students carry, and how much money graduates earn.  Welcome to the NCLB accountability club where federal funding is held hostage; conform to the one size fits all federal plan or lose funding.

Others worry about the one-size-fits-all measure, when colleges have different missions. Moreover, certain criteria reveal more about the ideology of those rating the schools than the quality of the schools themselves. For example, those ranking a school based on its graduates' earnings value high salaries over professions such as teaching, social work, or other important, but not lucrative, jobs.

Williams College president Adam Falk decried the rating plan as "oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads."

Wendy Lecker, author of the post, believes enough is enough and challenges college presidents and all of us to fight back.

It is high time for university presidents, good government groups and others to join public school advocates in demanding that the democratic purpose of our public schools be restored, lest no one remain when the profit-seekers come for them.

The article makes me reflect on my beliefs.  I don't believe that I am in complete agreement with Lecker, but with each new federal initiative or mandate I get closer, especially with comments like the one below.

“It’s like rating a blender. This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

This is what  Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, told a group of college presidents who were meeting to talk about President’s Obama’s plan to rate colleges with the apparent aim of driving out of business schools that don’t meet the administration’s definition of success.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sharing our learning . . .

Dawn and I had an opportunity today to share some of our new learning about giving and receiving feedback with the Rock Creek leadership team.  They are beginning a process at the team level to collect data and provide feedback first among themselves and then with their grade level colleagues and had asked for some support.  What would have been a fairly easy presentation using material already developed became a more difficult process because of new learning from a book we are reading, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.  The book is causing me dissonance so having the opportunity to partner with Dawn and share with Rock Creek was appreciated and helpful.

Over time, our focus has been on the giver of the feedback supporting them through training, role playing, and feedback.  We now know that we need to spend as much time supporting the receiver to be receptive to the feedback even when it feels wrong and misguided.  We know from experience how difficult it can be to receive feedback that makes us question our knowledge and skill so leverage in this process rests with supporting the receiver in maintaining a positive mental model through the process. As we shared in a draft to support their individual and team reflection:

We are learning that we need to focus on the receiver as much as the giver because the receiver is in control of what they do with the feedback, how they make sense of what is being shared, and whether they choose to learn and change.  How can we influence the receiver to recognize and manage the tendency to resist less than “wow” feedback and maintain the capacity to learn and grow even if the feedback seems wrong?

Another change in practice is encouraging a dialogue and not the one way conversation that we sometimes experience in a feedback situation.  The focus of the dialogue is on creating mutual intent and shared understanding of what the data means that results in meaningful feedback and options for growth for the receiver.   Initial feedback from our time together suggests that this approach to providing feedback can lessen the anxiety associated with those beginning the process of giving feedback.  Dawn and Shelly did a great job of modeling this practice and sharing how all of us are increasing our knowledge and skill in this important work.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Varied focus on NCLB . . .

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Katie Whittier, King County Director, for Senator Patty Murray.  She called and asked for the opportunity following the School Board decision to support the WSSDA Resolution asking our federal legislators to make reauthorization of ESEA a high prioirty.  ESEA is the legislation that gave birth to NCLB that is driving the federal department's one size fits all solution to education reform in our country.
We had a good conversation and learned that Senator Murray tried working with Secretary Duncan to maintain the state's NCLB waiver without success, as he needed to make an example to the remainder of states that they need to follow the department's mandates for reform.  We were assured that reauthorization is a high priority for Senator Murray and that she will try to work in a collaborative effort to replace this broken and overdue legislation.

Also yesterday I read in a Valerie Strauss Answer Sheet post that Oklahoma Governor Fallin has this week to decide if she will support the bill recently passed by both legislative houses to repeal the Common Core.  It will not be an easy decision as she is in a difficult situation.

Fallin is in a complicated position in regards to the Common Core. She is the chair of the National Governors Association, one of the organizations behind the development of the Core. Last December, amid growing concerns among conservatives that the Core constituted a federal takeover of local education, Fallin issued an executive ordersupporting the Common Core standards, which in Oklahoma were being called the Oklahoma State Standards, and saying that there would be no federal intrusion.

Though popular with legislators the decision is not one that others in the state view as a positive step including the teacher quoted in the article.  As with us, it would be difficult to once again be forced to respond to yet another set of standards.  I'll continue to follow this process as I am interested in seeing if moving away from the Common Core Standards will jeopardize Oklahoma's waiver.

The Oklahoman newspaper quoted Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, as predicting that “chaos” would ensue if the Core is rescinded. One middle school math teacher, Heather Sparks, Oklahoma’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, was quoted as saying:
“For next year, we’ve already written our curriculum map and the pacing guides for the Common Core standards. It’s kind of disheartening. If these are repealed, we’ll have to go backward.”
I'll end this post with a section from an opinion in the LA Times focused on school reform and NCLB that resonates for me.
In other words, right now the nation is operating under a hodgepodge of federal rules that seem to change state by state and depending on the political winds. The Obama administration hasn't done a particularly good job, but the bulk of the blame rests with lawmakers for leaving No Child Left Behind on the books.
School reform shouldn't be this hard. States should be allowed to set up their own improvement programs, as long as those programs meet certain parameters for ensuring steady progress for a broad spectrum of students, especially disadvantaged and minority students. The measurement of those improvements should include more than test scores. The U.S. government should get out of the business of micromanaging schools, using its authority instead to ensure that it is receiving good value for the dollars it spends on public education.

Difficult day . . .

Today was my last Educational Leadership Team (ELT) meeting as superintendent.  It is the monthly meeting of administrators in our district and one of three opportunities I have each month with these individuals with formal leadership responsibility in our system.  As I shared with them, losing these opportunities to share learning and support growth will be one of the most difficult losses in retirement.  It will rank up there with the respect, appreciation, and sense of accomplishment that I get from working with our school board.

We have a quality leadership team and I take pride in having had some small influence on their capacity to create, implement, and sustain the adaptive changes necessary to meet the accountability measures imposed by federal and state mandates.  More importantly, they have the capacity to continue our "Future Ready" initiative to ensure that all Tahoma graduates are prepared for success in post high school learning and work. We are positioned for continuing success as Rob transitions seamlessly into the superintendency.  I am excited with the combination of commitment to what we do well and adaptive thinking that he is bringing to the work and to following our progress over time.

It will be no surprise to those that know me that my last message was about leadership.  It was about passion, beliefs, collaboration, collective capacity, transparency, humility, learning, and our purpose for being our YOUNG PEOPLE.  I chose to use the quotes on the slide below to end my short presentation, just before I got emotional and embarrassed..

The day ended, however, on an upside as it was the annual Board meeting to honor retirees and those with 20, 25, 30, and 35 years in the district.  Board President Mary Jane, made it easy for me by allowing me to sit while the kind words were said.  It was fun to honor the other eighteen retirees and multiple Years of Service Award recipients.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

More high school talent . . .

Last week Ken Riggs, high school music teacher, shared information with us on how well the high school choirs did this year with a focus on a recent Chamber Choir performance.  Below, are his words and a link to the performance.  I watched videos of four of their songs, well worth the time. Can't wait until the day our young people share their talent on a performance center stage at the new Tahoma High School.

It has been a great year for the THS choirs!  Each group received the highest scores of any choir at their region contests, one of our singers won the state solo contest, and we gave many wonderful concerts, not to mention all of the great learning and musical growth that has been taking place in the classroom, but without a doubt the highlight was our Chamber Choir’s performance at the Northwest Division Convention of the American Choral Directors’ Association.

I did not see all of the performances at the convention, but of the ones I did see - a great middle school choir, as well as high school, university, and adult professional choirs - we were the ONLY ONE that received a standing ovation from the audience of nearly 600 choral professionals from throughout the northwest.  These experienced musicians are not easily impressed, and do not give this kind of accolade without good cause.

You can access the videos of their performance here: