Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Innovation Everywhere!

     Yes, it has been a couple of months since my last post. Sorry about that, but I took a Blogging break. Life has kept me busy. My Father-in-Law had a stroke, and we just returned from a trip to visit him up north. Health tragedies TRULY make me grateful for my life more than anything else I know. I lost a mother to cancer, my father had a heart attack, and now I have experienced stroke in a very intimate way. All of these debilitating events put life in perspective and have caused me to value every minute of every day as a miracle.

     This past couple of weeks, I have been paying close attention to the changes I have seen in the medical industry. For example, when my Father-in-Law had the stroke, they were able to take an image of his blood clot in his brain. The brain is a remarkable piece of work. Here is that image in black and white. Such imaging along with the amazing new medicines and things like robotics being used for surgery make our medical industry better. Innovation has improved this industry and many others.

     When we returned from our trip to Ohio, I had my own appointment with a physician. Being on vacation, like many educators, I was trying to fit as many appointments in to this week as possible. The doctor I was visiting was switching to paperless documentation. Many doctors I have visited over the years have made the switch, but this doctor was using the "latest and greatest". His staff took my picture with the iPad, they had me sign waivers on the iPad with an index finger signature, and everything was documented via the tablet. There was no paper involved in the visit at all. 

     If you know anything about me, you know that I am stoked by technology and futuristic trends. I LOVE how quickly all the fields around me are shifting to use technology tools. Innovation is so exciting, and my Twitter Feed is full of articles and retweets about technology and ed. tech.

     During the last faculty meeting of our school year, I showed a video about Innovation (I have added it here) to our faculty. I wanted them to be inspired by the comments of Geoffrey Canada, president of the famous Harlem charter schools that are featured in the movie, Waiting for Superman. The movie talks about some of the struggles of public schools. I love his philosophy in this video where he talks about the need for innovation in our schools and how so little has changed in our pedagogy. He describes the things that research shows us need to be changed, but they have not changed. Just today, I read a tweet from another local principal. She was quoting a speaker at the PAEC Conference being held at the Bay Point Marriott this week.  The tweet was:

     Some of the changes that Educational Leaders will be making in the coming years are going to be difficult. As Geoffrey Canada says in this video, we are out of time. We need to begin changing now. If you get time, consider the things he says.....and dream of the future.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Just Part of the Family

     This past week I had the privilege to work with an amazing group of administrators as we embarked on a challenging new journey. The family of schools that combine to feed into Bay High School, the Bay High Family of Schools, met to start a partnership that will lead to stronger schools to better serve our students. The catalyst for the partnership was a comment made by one of our school board members during the last Principals' Meeting. The partnership might have occurred over time anyway, but it was this comment by board member, Ginger Littleton, that got all of us thinking! To summarize, she said that the high schools should be looking to strengthen the middle schools, and the middle schools should be looking to strengthen the elementary schools... or we were all missing out on opportunities to build stronger families of schools.
     Shortly after the meeting, it might have been a couple of days at the most, Jinks Middle School's new Principal, Britt Smith, sent an email asking all of our feeder schools to join him in a meeting to begin the unification of our school family.
     I was delighted to join in this process as we would all reap the benefits of stronger connections and communication in our pipeline of schools.

     Some of the great ideas that resulted from the meeting were:
  • ·       The collaboration of teachers for curriculum and grade level expectations across the full vertical team.
  • ·       The integration of student experiences across schools especially to support programs, special projects, and events.
  • ·       The formation of student communities/academies such as athletic and arts academies.
  • ·       The increase of press and public relations using social media and other outlets to declare the excellence at our schools.
  • ·       The promotion and building of relationships for students and their families among schools.

     I look forward to the future where I will see middle and high school students on our campus providing the excellent role models for our elementary students. I look forward to a future where our teachers are comfortable collaborating together to polish our craft and bravely accept all the challenges coming to each of our schools TOGETHER.

     I know of a team of schools who are partnering in Canada, using a Triad model. Here is an image of their Google+ page.

     The Triad DGM Google + Group was created to assist the staffs of St. Gregory, St. Daniel and St. Monica with their collaborative inquiry. Their Google + Group also challenged the Triad schools to use new technologies to keep connected throughout the year. Here is a BLOG entry posted by one of their primary grade teams (grades 1 & 2) of teachers that met, collaborated, and shared their work: 

     I have watched their model on Google +, and I hope that our group will use technology such as Google Hangouts to capture the great work that I am positive is going to happen as we begin this journey! I am proud to be... just part of the family!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Al Pacino of Education

     It was last summer when I really became acquainted, actually much closer than I would like, with our state's accountability system. I DO believe in accountability, but after much research, I had concluded that Florida state's school grading system was broken. The state had changed the target and moved the target so many times that it was like playing football with the goal post constantly moving farther and farther away and the referees always changing the number of points that it took to get a touchdown. Talk about frustrating!

     So, in my usual fashion I set out to learn as much as I could and to talk to as many folks as I could about the problems this presented for my faculty and myself in our goals to increase student achievement. I traveled to Tallahassee and met with the education commissioner, and I made an appointment to speak with our local senator (see those posts here: Learning from a State Leader and My Chat with the Senator). AND....I began to follow what was happening at the state level. That is when I became aware of one of my new heroes, and I want to introduce YOU to him.

     During my journey to learn about state grading, my own Super. started hooking me up with links to articles, and his staff shared a video with me from the state task force that was convened to provide some recommendations to then Commissioner of Education, Toni Bennett. The video which was a full hour long in just the first section was very intriguing. I watched it several times, and I became genuinely inspired by one Superintendent in particular. Alberto Carvalho took charge of the room and made the most sense of anyone on the task force because he was there, in the trenches, with his schools trying to survive the bludgeoning being issued by our state. He spoke confidently, eloquently, and passionately. I was hooked, and I believed that he would definitely go far in whatever he chose to do in the future. He is in charge of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest school district in the United States. I was so impressed with his logical and pragmatic points during the Task Force Meeting, that I felt he could make sense of the grading mess much better than I I scaled down the hour video to 6 minutes and showed it to my faculty during the summer pre-service training. I tried to embed that video here, but Blogger has its quirks, and it would not cooperate. So I have added a link to that video on MY YouTube Channel, and I captured a screen shot of what the video looks like on MY channel. 

             Click here for the video: DOE School Grading Task Force - High Points

     Now, after watching this video, I was also struck by how closely Alberto resembles on of my personal favorite actors of all time, Al Pacino....not only in physical appearance but also in his demeanor and style. The IMDB says Pacino is known for, "...his forceful and dynamic presentation." Well, that is how I see Alberto! As a matter of fact, my favorite movie with Al Pacino is Heat (1995) where he plays the role of LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna who leads a team of cops in the Robbery/Homicide police division. His nemesis in the movie is none other than Robert DeNiro, and it is a great story line for both actors. Pacino's character is the white hat, and he wins out over evil in the movie. It is his confident and brash style in the movie that is so strong that help him to be so successful at his craft. Here is a picture of Al from the movie...see any resemblances?

 Image used from Movie Retrospect BLOG

    Ironically, during the course of hiring teachers during this past school year, I interviewed an applicant who had read my BLOG, and she noted my comment about him in the post about my visit to meet the Education Commissioner. She had met Mr. Carvalho during a FASA meeting, and she had his business card. She presented it to me as a gift, and ....of course, wouldn't you know it?....the back of his card contained ALL of his social media. He rocks!

     Almost a year after learning about him and zeroing in on his strengths and his potential, I learned that he was named Florida’s 2014 Superintendent of the Year as well as the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year. Further, he was named by Scholastic Administrator as one of "The Fantastic Five" educators making a difference in America. I guess I picked a winner! LOL.

     The biography on his website says: "AC successfully transformed his district’s business operations and financial systems with the implementation of a streamlined Strategic Framework focused on a singular goal of student achievement. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is now widely considered the nation’s highest-performing urban school system, and was named as the 2014 College Board Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year as well as the 2012 winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education.  On November 6, 2012, following four years of extraordinary District performance, Miami-Dade County voters confirmed their faith in their public schools and their Superintendent by passing a $1.2 Billion Bond Referendum for school construction."

     He is definitely an educational leader I will continue to watch with wonder. I am following him on Twitter, and who knows, I might end up writing another post about him in the future -- I really don't think he has shown us all that he can do. He has amazing potential.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

School Culture #SAVMP 27

     One of the reasons I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the #SAVMP project is because I get some pretty amazing ideas from the project and all of its contributors. The most recent assignment was posted by @gcouros, and George describes a story of how he made just a few changes to the front foyer at his school when he was a principal.

     Well, I am officially bootlegging one of his ideas! Since I became Principal last year, we have made several changes to our front lobby by: 1) Adding a lovely image of a cheetah (our mascot) as painted by our talented art teacher; 2) Adding a Digital Frame that scrolls with images of our Student of the Month winners; 3) Adding a copy of our Mission and Vision Statements (see below):

     And...we added a group picture of the faculty and staff. BUT...after reading George's post about how he made the lobby an area of student focus, I think we will move the portrait of the adults to the lounge, and we will put the art work of our students in the lobby. This post by George was called: The Little Things and School Culture, and he shared how just making that one change made such a difference:

"That little change and focus on them (students), set a tone for so many other aspects of what happened in school with students.  Sometimes we do not notice the little things in our school that are just “fixtures” on the wall but promote a very different culture of what we are trying to create. "

     The aforementioned, talented art teacher and I just recently selected the student winner of the school's 5th grade art contest where the student's artwork will adorn the school folder for the coming school year. We will certainly need to think about putting that STUDENT artifact in the front office after we move the picture of the adults to the teachers' lounge. 

     Great ideas get me excited about the work I do....I can't wait to implement this change!

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Chat with the Senator

     Last summer I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with our local senator, Senator Don Gaetz. He was a former school Superintendent, so I felt I could share my frustrations with him about our current state accountability system. Don't get me wrong. I am an accountability girl. I have seen the advent of accountability cause an elevation in our ability to improve student achievement like never before. But I did share with the Senator how our state’s “safety net” embedded in the accountability system reduced the urgency necessary to turn around schools demonstrating a downward trajectory in regards to student achievement. I shared the story of how I took over a “B” school that was really, by points, a C school with only 9 points keeping it from a D. But the community, the district, and even the school staff were not acting with a sense of urgency due to the “B” which camouflaged our downward trajectory.
     During our chat, he was very insightful, and I took away some awesome quotes from our visit. He said, I needed some “hard chargers” to help with the reform…referring to the teaching staff.
     When he responded to my visit by sending me a personal letter, he said, “I was intrigued by your analysis that the current school grading system – “buffered” grades – turned out to be a disadvantage to you in developing a sense of urgency among your faculty and parents and district staff.” When I read his letter, I knew that he had genuinely listened to what I had to say.

     And now….FLASH FORWARD….a year later. This spring, the Senator has worked with others in the government to remove the safety net and to create a transparent grading system. I was thrilled when I received his email newsletter that described the changes.

     I firmly believe that the Senator listened to my heartfelt concerns. He probably heard similar concerns from across the state, and he listened. This summer I will reply to his letter with thanks. All in all, this was a worthwhile experience, but the Senator’s responsiveness and time taken to send me a letter seemed to make it even more gratifying.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Communication as a Leader #SAVMP 24

Amber's assignment for this week -- Communication as a Leader -- is a great topic because it is one that trips up lots of folks involved in leadership. Decisions get made that trickle down to the people who have to implement them, and if there has not been STRONG and proactive communication about the why and what for's of decisions, people get confused, and they get angry.

I have spent the last year and half trying to tell the "story" of our school effectively so that the folks who like to get negative have all the facts and can't invent their own whimsical tales of why and how decisions are made. Do the decisions make everyone happy? Of course not. There are always folks who do not like change, and there are always folks who don't like accountability, and there are always folks who just don't like YOU! LOL. As a leader, you will need to accept that it is sometimes lonely work being in front of the line. 

I have used two very powerful tools to shed light on the AMAZING things happening at our school and on the AMAZING people who create the work day-in and day-out so that the magic happens for our students. I also share my vision consistently using these tools by focusing on the data, the educational research, and the best practices that generate this vision. 

What tools do I use? I use my Monday Memo called the Cheetah Chat  and my Friday Flash called the Friday Cheetah PUPdate. However, these aren't your average newsletter style documents that share faculty birthdays and inspiring quotes. We put those "announcements" of meetings and other business items in our Cherry Blossom and on the Google Calendar. I use the Chat and PUPdate to embed videos, links, and images from all over our campus and from all the great educational leaders to provide the clear vision and expectations for the faculty and for our challenging work. Further, I rarely send out emails to the staff in the interim because during an early leadership team meeting last year, one of our wise team leaders expressed frustration over the amount of email she has to plow through in her email inbox from everywhere, including the district level. This created the cultural norm for our campus that we ALL try and protect teacher's planning time; therefore, it is the expectation on Monday and Friday that faculty take the time to read these training documents.

Here is an example of a recent Chat where I show campus data, inlay campus expectations, and recognize the efforts of members of the faculty for innovative ideas.

Next I have included below an example of the PUPdate which is emailed early Friday mornings. These are really energizing to create because it requires me to continually have my mind on the great things happening on campus so that we can celebrate the small victories! It allows me to recognize the hard work of the folks who are in the front seats and foremost rows on the bus {a Good to Great reference-I recommend you read it},  and it reinforces the expectations for everyone so there are no questions about the non-negotiables for our team.

The attachments are always valuable as you can see from the images included below that add to the mere words of the email above:

You can see the smiling faces of the children who are why we do what we do, and you can see the environment emphasized for faculty that we have fun together and remember to balance our hard work with loving life!

Communication in leadership is critical. You must OVERcommunicate. Communicate, communicate, communicate! I just can't communicate it enough!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Are We Cultivating? #SAVMP 25

2013-2014 has been a year of growth for Cherry Street Elementary. We have added a TAG program, become an inclusive school, and replaced our core curriculum. The amazing by-product of the growth of these programs has been the growth of our faculty. I could write for pages and pages about how these programs have grown all of us, but tonight I will focus on our CheeTAG program.

When I took the job as Principal at Cherry Street I was made aware of several challenges. The school had seen its local community families turn to the private school down the street and to several charter schools in the area. We had many families left supporting the school, but if things didn't change we might soon lose them as well. Also, the school grade had been in decline for a few years, but the decline had been masked by the state's safety net.

My brilliant friend reviewed the master schedule with me in the early weeks of my new leadership role. She asked vehemently, "Where is the TAG program?" I explained that we didn't have one, and then we both pondered aloud the benefits derived from adding a program like this. First, it would keep families at our school--the families looking for the challenging programs provided at the charter and private school settings. Next, it would help build a layer of proficient students in our school achievement data...something that was missing. Further, it would allow my class-size restrictions due to state mandates to be flexed when building the master schedule because TAG classes are frequently multi-age. The premise of these programs is that students work at their mental age and NOT at their physical age. Lastly, having a TAG program would allow our staff and select groups of students to explore the most innovative and technology-driven aspects of today's educational offerings.

My first task was to locate the teachers who could tackle the obstacles inherent in implementing a new program while also learning how to be successful in managing such a program ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I knew just the right people. I asked two teachers on staff to consider taking the gifted endorsement coursework. It was a gift from heaven when both dynamic ladies agreed to take the coursework. They each seemed genuinely interested in the program we would implement in the upcoming school year.

Fast forward to the following summer. Both ladies finished their coursework ahead of schedule! Did I pick the right two or what? And, they began developing plans and curriculum for their classes. The teacher for the 4/5 combination TAG class even came up with a name for our program: CheeTAG since we are the Cheetahs at Cherry Street. I bought each of these ladies the book: Re-Forming Gifted Education, and away they went to the races! As we got closer to the start of school, we ended up having the students to create a combination 1/2 TAG class, a pure 3rd grade class, and a 4/5 combination class. Luckily, we had a 3rd grade teacher who was already endorsed for gifted education which allowed us to flesh out the program from grades 1-5.

The three fabulous teachers, our wonderful Student Services Coordinator, and I, all set out to create a diverse program that relied on student data to fashion personalized student learning goals for every content area of the program. From there, we embedded project-based learning, career-oriented learning, and technology-based learning. The results have been astounding, and we continue to see gains with almost 100% of the students in the program.

The teachers in these classes are positive, dynamic, and they are data-driven. Their malleability and willingness to work with a multi-age program that relies heavily on technology and increased engagement has provided our students with learning opportunities that are very unique. Two of the teachers are very excited about the possibilities for next year, and every time I get a chance to chat with them they tell me how much THEY have grown this year. For instance, one of the teachers sent me her engagement percentages for a lesson she taught last week, and she shared the pictures with me of the students who were VERY MUCH engrossed in the lesson. It was exciting to share the joy with her about trying to push student learning to the very highest level! Not only are our diverse TAG students growing, but our teachers are growing. So when this week's SAVMP assignment asked, "What are you cultivating?" I had to take this opportunity to share about our new TAG program and the progressive teachers who stepped up to the challenge to make certain our strongest learners continue to meet their own learning goals.