Orlando…and our Role…

211095_421840484565487_1426209859_nWas searching for a message after a too long blog-hiatus.  I decided to go with my letter to staff from the evening of 6/12/16, as we headed into the last full week of school.
Morning everyone–
Tough weekend to be sure.  Somber news initially ushered in the weekend with the memorial service for Muhammed Ali and the passing of Gordie Howe, both on Friday.  I spent more downtime than I expected reading articles on both, and looking at pictures of them in youth and as they aged–still carrying such an enormous influence, Ali certainly on a larger stage.  The black and white photos of that time seem to show even more fully their strength, their mastery of their craft.  For some of us, we heard stories about these two from our own parents, and the passing of these two icons can’t help but remind us time’s inevitable march.
And then we woke up Sunday morning.  A tragedy in a city known for its amusement parks.  Social and traditional media began their predictable warring.  Gun control v gun rights, domestic v foreign terror, Christianity v Islam, straight v gay, Clinton v Trump. While these pitched battles were unfolding, Twitter kept up with other news. Reflections/opinions on the OJ Simpson special seemed prevalent, as did the updates on the coming evening’s Tony Awards and Stanley Cup game.  The splintered focus and array of options for viewing and reading made it possible for one to walk away saying, “The coverage of the mass-shooting is wall to wall,” while another might come away not knowing that 50 people had perished, and more were injured.
I think there are lessons within these events that we can use in all of our classrooms, regardless of subject. Your room is your community.  Next year, you’ll be leading the creation of another community, and the behaviors that are promoted, tolerated, or barred helped to showcase what is valued by the members of that community.  You have tremendous power in the influencing of how that community develops.  Persistence can be demonstrated by showing Ali’s lighting of the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996.  Gordie Howe’s commitment to his craft and family can by his coming out of retirement to play alongside his sons when he was already 45, playing for another 7 years.
And what of a mass shooting?  Sadness.  Terror.  Empathy.  There are almost too many angles from which to choose. I think you can stake a claim for what is valued in your room. The fact that hate has never solved anything.  The fact that sexuality does not define a person, and demeaning labels can never be used.  Points of difference between religions should be discussed, but so too should those ideas that religions have in common.  Issues such as gun control offer fertile ground for a Socratic seminar.  The ongoing election cycle offers a chance for us to demonstrate debate and discussion in a calm and reasoned manner, which could offer a large distinction from what is seen nationally throughout the summer and fall.  It’s a tone you’ll be able to set in your room…making it a classroom community where beliefs and differences are respected and can be discussed all the while working together.
It’s a challenging time.  But other times have been challenging as well.  Teachers came back to school and worked with scared, nervous students on December 8, 1941.  Teachers helped students see that the views of Senator McCarthy in the 1950s were not the thoughts of everyone.  Teachers worked with students in October of 1962 when it looked like the nuclear war was imminent. Teachers guided their students through JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963, and continued to do so throughout the 1960s and 70s with more assassinations and the escalating and divisive Vietnam War.  Later, teachers would help students comprehend the events of April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City, and then (a minute or a lifetime later) survived a blue skied Tuesday morning, returning to school on Wednesday, September 12, 2001 to begin the process, that remains, of making sense of our new reality. There have been more challenging times of course, both nationally and in our own school…but my point is this:  In our own school days we were cared for by teachers who guided us through the difficult times of that era.  We are here to do the same, and to do it possibly even better.  Make your room a safe haven for discussion, even if that discussion is challenging.  Thank you for doing this–I know you will without such writing, but know that I believe in you and I believe in us.
The week
Monday, June 13th
8:30-10–art interviews, demonstration lessons
1pm–DARE graduation
6:30–PTSA meeting, Newfane El Cafe–if there is any way you can make it–please do! PTSA would LOVE to see a lot of us–
Tuesday, June 14th
Flag Day
8am–I’ll be at El to discuss 4th grade
Wednesday, June 15th
8:30–admin cabinet meeting
9am–Living Environment Regents exam, T4
1pm–4th grade Moving Up Ceremony at the El
2:30–SET meeting
Thursday, June 16th
9am–Algebra Regents exam, T4
DARE Day celebrations for 5th grade
PM exams for grades 6-8
Friday, June 17th
AM/PM exams for all grades
Check exam schedules/proctoring
3pm–Staff Appreciation
*Schedules for evals will be up by Wednesday.
*Begin working on your year end documents as well.
*Sign up for the professional development that’s been posted–math and ELA are both big priorities.  Make it happen—looking forward to learning alongside you.
*Sign up for potluck breakfast too!
Thanks everyone.    Treat each other well.  Treat your kids well.  Treat yourself well.  Let’s fight for what we have here.

 

Our Own Daily Miracle

It seems that digital technology should be a vehicle towards some sort of glistening future.  Currently, I’m positioned in front of a TV broadcasting an important event in New York City (in Madison Square Garden to be more precise), there’s a laptop that’s living up to its name, my phone is on the coffee table in front of me, and next to it is an iPAD.  The dog next to me and the furniture I rest on are about the only things that would not look out of place to a person transported here from 1940…and add only the TV for a visitor from maybe as recent as 1998.

Instead of promoting a forward look though, on most evenings these devices are vehicle to the past.  It might be news that’s not so new anymore that catches my attention, or an older movie, or defunct magazines that are now digitized for easy, rabbit-hole promoting access.  Even social media can push me back to the past.  The writer of one of my favorite follows on Twitter is formerly of the Montreal Gazette whose name is Dave Stubbs. He peppers his feed with pictures of old-time hockey players and artifacts-it’s fascinating.  I’m transported back to my earliest sporting memories, of skating at Ives Pond in the city of Tonawanda, of watching Hockey Night in Canada, of having my first sports hero in Wayne Gretzky, a time when we all thought that a career in professional hockey were in our futures.  We were all of 8 years old at the time, and the realization that perhaps that dream might not come true didn’t crash with anguish but rather the gradual emergence of the knowledge that…well…if I’m the 5th best defenseman on my house team, then most likely…you get the idea.  In any case, Mr. Stubbs has recently moved on to a new job, with NHL.com, and he posted a farewell article today to his readers.  It’s title is “Farewell to the Daily Miracle,” and it’s posted on the website of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at thephwa.com.  He talked about the move from print to digital media, and spoke with a certain level of wistfulness and acceptance of the struggling state of the printed medium in which he’d spent most of his career.  He highlighted what he’d miss:

There is much about the daily print business I’ll miss, mostly the gifted writers,                photographers, artists and editors who work in the trenches, hitting the bull’s eye of a constantly           moving target.  Journalists used to call newspapers “the daily miracle.” That still applies. 

Some might argue about the use of the term miracle (see old SNL sketch starring Father Sarducci), but getting a daily newspaper delivered to your door is an absolutely stunning achievement.  Think of it in terms of backward planning…you pick up the paper at your door…brought to you by a delivery person…who was delivered (or picked up) their bundle by a delivery driver…the driver who had the papers loaded in the truck…the handlers who took the finished bundles from the presses…the press room operators and their pivotal work…the typesetters (programmers now?)…the editors…the writers…the events themselves…all this delivered daily.  Never mind the raw materials needed to make the paper and print itself…a miracle delivered…every day.

Those of you familiar with me and/or this blog don’t need much in the way of a road map to see where this is going.  The two word phrase daily miracle to me was striking, not because of a work-life in the news industry.  Instead, it’s because it can be applied to our own place…our own school, our own lives.

Our Own Daily Miracle — the life of the school–

11pm–custodian and cleaners finish up their last rounds, readying for departure.

9pm–last outside groups utilizing the school depart.  Wrestling mats are rolled up in the smaller gym and put away in preparation for the gym being used the next morning.  JV boys basketball has wrapped up in the larger gym.

7pm–custodial staff moves on to next area to clean.  Doors to classrooms are unlocked, carts moved down to next part of hall.  Floors swept, chairs placed on desks where needed.  Dinner break is often during this time.  Nightly visit of one or two students who come back to get forgotten homework, books, jackets.

6:30pm–HS wrestlers for the most part gone, leaving mats on floor of small gym to be used by Kids Club wrestling.  Students rehearsing for the district musical have left the auditorium, leaving advisers to discuss progress and how things are looking as January turns to February.  Show time in a little more than a month.

6pm–Last of the YWCA after school club members depart.  Advisers to this program depart.

4pm–Majority of staff members from both Newfane Middle School and Newfane Learning Center have departed by this time, but coaching in both gyms continues unabated.  JV girls basketball and JV/V wrestling dominate this time frame, and both portions of the building are in use.

3:15pm–the late bus shuttles (2-3 regular buses) transport NMS students who stayed after school to the El, for transfer and then transport home.  Admin and advisers monitor student entry on buses, wish the drivers well, and head back in building.

3pm–Late bell rings for NMS.  Students who stayed after for clubs, intramurals, tutoring or (gulp) because they were told to, are dismissed, late bus passes in hand.  Crowd of about 70-100 students congregates in bus circle awaiting buses.

2:40pm–Bus circle pretty much empty of Newfane Learning Center buses.  NLC staff return to the building.

2:22pm–The signal given for departure of buses carrying NMS students, heading to the Newfane HS for pick up of the 9th-12th graders.  Deputy Birmingham and school staff monitor roadway on East Ave, and staff monitors hallways as students dismiss.

2:13pm–THE bell…end of 9th period.  70-80% of our students leave during this time…walkers head out the doors, as do those being picked up by parents.  Bus riders leave through bus circle doors.

1:33–9th period, last period of day begins.

1:30–End of 8th period–mass movement to 9th period class.

12:50–Start of 8th period.  Cafe employees finish up their work and have lunch in the cafe following.  Custodial staff begins targeted cleaning of middle school cafeteria as well as the Sunshine Cafe, on the NLC side.

12:46–End of 7th period.  Lunches are done for the day.  Mass movement to 8th period.

12:06–Start of 7th period.  8th grade lunch.

12:02–End of 6th period.  Mass movement to 7th period.

11:22–Start of 6th period, which is also lunch period for 6th graders.

11:18–End of 5th period.  5th graders have emptied the Sunshine Cafe, while 7th graders move on from lunch in the NMS cafeteria.

10:38–Start of 5th period.  5th grade and 7th grade lunch.

10:34–End of 4th period.  Mass movement to 5th.

9:54–Start of 4th period.

9:51–End of 3rd period.  Mass movement to 4th.

9:11–Start of 3rd period.

9:08–End of second period.  Mass movement to 3rd.

8:28–Start of second period.

8:25–End of first period.  Mass movement to second.

8:15–series of buses enter circle dropping off students for the Newfane Learning Center. Breakfast served for NLC students.

7:45–Announcements over.  5th graders move to their first period class.

7:40–Second bell of day.  Students should be in homeroom/first period.  The pledge the flag of the United States is recited over the PA, as is a collective moment of silence.  Announcements are organized and arranged by staff, and then read by student volunteers.  Cafe is cleaned in preparation for next group to enter, students from the Newfane Learning Center.

7:30am–First bell of day.  Mass movement from aud and cafe to homeroom, which for all but our 5th graders is their first period class.  Chatter abounds.  Lockers are opened. Greetings are exchanged.  Fundraising questions answered.  Announcements submitted.

7:25am–buses in bus circle drop off remaining students and begin to exit on East Ave.  Cars and buses alternate during this high traffic drop off time.

7:15am–Earliest buses drop off students who buy breakfast in NMS cafe.  Buses remain in circle until 7:25, at which point they leave to drop off remaining students at Newfane HS.  1/2 buses drop at MS first, the other 1/2 at the HS.

7am–earliest arrivals of students head to the aud.  NMS staff have opened aud and await student arrival.  Bulk of NMS staff arrive between just prior to 7 (some earlier) and 7:20.

5am–arrival of head custodian–turning on lights, unlocking doors, shoveling walks, assuring flag is waving on Transit Road side of school.

The miracle of course is not the schedule.  It is, rather, the people.  It’s the way we all are involved in an effort to hit, as the writer above noted, a target that is moving.  No two days the same, no telling whether what worked for yesterday will work for today.  That moving target is the path to help our kids develop into the best people they can be, with a surfeit of opportunities available to them.  The daily miracle is the daily effort and passion that makes such inspiration and growth possible.  The miracle…is all of us involved in making this happen each day.

It’s the ones who wake the kids up in the morning to get them on their way.  It’s the ones who drive the buses and the cars that get them to 2700 Transit safely.  It’s the ones who keep the place safe and clean, the ones who make the food and serve it.  It’s the ones who spend their evenings grading the papers and planning the lessons.  It’s the ones who welcome the ill student to lay down and provide a washcloth for a fevered forehead.  It’s the students who come in ready for the day, ready to see their friends, and ready for what is open to them in this world.  It’s the citizens who provide us the resources to help make the learning real, it’s the parent, or bus driver, who drops off the forgotten instrument or folder, or sneakers.  The daily miracle is the meshing of all of us–both in the school and outside–with all our differences, and all our similarities, in one place that we get to call “ours,” to help our kids become the hopeful, helpful, prepared citizens of tomorrow.

Thanks for your part in our daily miracle, and thanks for helping us to hit that moving target.  Looking forward to more miracles in the future–see you in the halls.

 

 

 

 

 

Talks…

It was a chair that looked more like a throne than anything in the house in which I was raised.  Two sturdy arms, with a scroll design carved into the exposed wood.  The rest of the chair was upholstered in in something I’d guess was velour.  It was a rather striking color of orange.  If I would have found my career just one district to the west of us and called myself a Lakeman and not a Panther, I might think it was pretty impressive looking.  But it wasn’t.  The closest I can find to how it looked (and it’s not quite right—there needs to be more wood on the arms, and the orange needs to be more like ORANGE) is this:

orange chair

No one sat in that chair, at least not regularly.  Dad had his recliner, mom took the couch, kids took the floor.  Except when it was time for a talk.  Yes…those kind of talks.  You’ve heard them, you’ve given them.  In my memory, they’d sometimes start because of some specific mistake made, and at other times just for a lesson that was deemed necessary at the time.  As I recall, my dad was most often the initiator of a talk.  Family legend has it that upon one such occasion of my dad leading the, say, 7 year old me to the orange chair for a talk (he seated, me standing in front), I muttered something to the effect of “I hate these talks…”  I believe this was met with more stifled laughter than anything, thankfully.  But that talk did go on, as did many talks over the years, and fortunately for me, still do, though I tend to ask for them now.

The reason for the random introduction above is that I’ve lately found myself wanting to have “talks” with our kids at school.  And they could very well hate them too.  After all, they hear me quite a bit on the announcements.  They see me in the halls or in the office…it should be enough I suppose.  I do wonder at times if I’m getting through, or if I’m clear enough about expectations during our interactions.  So, for our 7th and 8th grade students, today was time for “a talk.”  5th and 6th grade will occur in due time, but today my focus was our older students.

The talks today weren’t in response to any specific act, or problem that recently came to light.  There are simply some things that concern me that I felt the need to address.  An overview of my points follows:

Point 1–The Kids are the Main Thing.

Inspired by a sign outside of a local church, I wanted to share with our students that we, as a staff, are dedicated to them…and that the things that we do, and the way we try to shape our school, are designed to provide them with as many opportunities in life as possible.  Our variety of classes, our consistent expectation of preparedness, our challenging them to do their best work, our desire for decent treatment to their fellow classmates—all these are in place to help our kids as many options open as possible.

 

Point 2—Dignity of All

We reviewed the protected classes under the Dignity for All Students Act, but (hopefully) dug deeper and I talked about the fact that instances of student reporting of others using racially charged language, talking negatively about others based on beliefs or perceived orientation have been rising of late.  The dignity of any student being taken away or limited can in reality limit the options that those victims have later in life, as their self-perceptions diminish and goals sadly shrink away as unattainable.   I asked for their help in the protection of others and in the elimination of these instances in their own lives.

Point 3—Speak Up Against Drugs

We talked about the banner that all our students signed and ran under during the Turkey Trot, as seen here:

speak up

We discussed the DARE pledge they made at the end of 5th grade.  I then, to knowing nods, acknowledged the fact that some in that room had not been able to follow that pledge, and that a good many others would be tempted to stray as well.  I talked to the students about the preciousness of life, of the importance of not making choices today that will limit their opportunities tomorrow.  I know they know this already…I don’t know if my saying things makes a difference, but, a bit selfishly I suppose, I wanted them to hear it from me how important it is that they look out for each other and themselves.

Point 4—Dare Greatly

Finally, I urged our 7th and 8th graders to keep working towards things they love, and to find things that they are passionate about.  I told them that if I went down to the El and talked to the students there about what they wanted to be when they got older I’d have hands up as far as the eye could see, ready to share.  I said that I doubt I’d get the same enthusiasm here—and that this was completely normal and natural.  We all go through phases where we’re not too big on the idea of sharing thoughts with a large group, and perhaps even more, simply being unsure of future plans.  I did wish for them to be open to being excited about the future, and to take their school work and activities seriously to see just what it is that makes for a fuller life for each student.

I’ve got to say—while talking to these groups of students—I didn’t feel like I had my fastball, or my best stuff.  I felt choppy in delivery and I left a bit worried about the impact, if any.  At minimum…I, and our staff at NMS, want our students to know that we care about them—not just when they are at 2700 Transit, but when they leave—both when they leave at the end of the day and when they go to the high school and beyond.  I’m hoping that students didn’t leave “hating these talks,” but if they did, that they know if came from a place of caring.

These “talks” matter—and while we know that we in no way can have a larger impact than the talks our students’ parents have with them, I’m hoping you know we want all the opportunities in the world for your kids and our students.  All the best to you and your families during this season.

 

Talk to you soon, and see you in the halls.

Godspeed Mrs. Leibring!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Among the many pieces of good fortune I’ve experienced in my years at Newfane Central, working alongside Pam Leibring ranks high on the list.  Pam’s last day as principal of Newfane Elementary was Friday, October 16th, and in typical Pam – fashion, she spent her evening at the school as well, as part of the Fall Fest celebration.  A week later, on the night of the 23rd, I attended a surprise farewell dinner in her honor that was simply beautifully done by the organizers (I’m looking at you, Virginia, Kathleen, Nicole, Kim and Amy, and many others I’m sure!).  I haven’t been able to find words to express my thoughts on the subject until now, and they’re still not flowing smoothly.  Pam is that important of a colleague and friend that I can’t quite conceive of her absence.

I met Pam early in our teaching careers, somewhere around 1998.  She was an exuberant elementary teacher who moonlighted by traveling throughout the region teaching a writing/editing course called “6 Traits.”  She became known district wide for her work, and began taking classes towards her administrative degree.  Though I did not have the same experience as she in professional development, I began taking similar classes around the same time…albeit at a more gradual pace than the perpetual motion that Pam exhibits in seemingly all things.  A few years later, our paths converged with a leadership change at Newfane Intermediate and Middle.  We served as administrative interns, then as assistant principals in those buildings…she with the 4th and 5th grade, while I worked in the 6-8 middle school. Over the next few years, our principal, Gary Pogorzelski, earned the superintendency, and I became principal, working alongside both Pam and Tom Stack.  As we gradually transitioned to one 5-8 school, Tom Stack moved to the high school, and Pam and I remained at the MS.  With Kathy Nagle’s retirement in 2012, Pam earned the position of El principal, where she served for just over three years.

In each of her many roles, she served where the need existed, and influenced positively the people and the programs around her.  When she moved on, those remaining were the better for having worked with her.  When a need arose in first grade, she filled it.  When the need was at 5th, she was there.  When writing became an area of critical concern, she volunteered to learn a new program and taught teachers (she volunteered even before she knew the training was in New Orleans!).  When the Intermediate School needed a day-to-day operations leader, no questions…Pam was there.  When her position went from AP of the grades 4-5 to AP of grades 4-8, she did not waver.  And, in 2012, she took on the position of El principal, built on the great things there, and placed her own stamp on the culture of that school.

Those who see needs and respond, those who find needs and fill them, are too rare.  Pam is one of those treasures, whose example I would do well to follow.  She is now filling another need, and influencing a whole new set of teachers and students, far beyond our district.  It is with sadness that I see her depart, but know she will truly be ever part of Newfane, and that which is good here.  She has it seems, taught us well.

One last thing–during some of the many searches for superintendents that we have seen, Pam and I would joke that the way to lure the best leader would be to sing a song like Jane and Michael Banks did when looking for a nanny in the musical “Mary Poppins.”  Feel free to refresh your memory of that song via Youtube.  We never did put it into action…but pupil services director Jen Bower and I performed a bit of the number as part of Pam’s farewell last Friday.  We’ve destroyed any evidence of that performance but as I write, I realize that perhaps another song and another message from the musical would have been more fitting.  Pam, is in fact, our Mary Poppins.  She was here…she served where needed.  She taught and led the people who needed her–students and adults alike.  Now that we’ve learned her lessons, it’s time for her to move on to serve others.  The song to really to be sung in this instance is the closing number.  “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is the celebration of applying all those lessons learned…Fare thee well to our good friend Mrs. Leibring…thanks for all you’ve done and all you’ll continue to do.

Feedback Without Fear

Since we’ve been on break, the state budget has been big news, and the language contained within effecting public schools has loomed largest for many.  We learned that Governor Cuomo and the NYS Senate and NYS Assembly agreed to a budget that includes additional funding for schools (more than last year anyway—we’re not addressing the gap elimination adjustment here : )…) as well new conditions for earning tenure, maintaining certification and teacher evaluations.  It’s the last piece that has generated most of the discussion; it appears that student growth on NYS assessments will be an even more prominent factor in determining the rating for our staff.  Those ratings are often referred to as HEDI ratings, an acronym standing for Highly effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective.  Statewide, and even nationally, there has been an increase in the discussion over how wise or unwise a decision this is.    There is much to say about the beliefs and rhetoric on both sides; suffice to say there are an awful lot of people representing a whole bunch of interests who are talking about testing, primarily in ELA and math at grades 3-8.

For those concerned with what Newfane Middle School is doing and how we are trying to address these issues, I offer the following answers to questions that have been asked of me:

Do we give the NYS assessments at Newfane Middle School?

Yes—the ELAs have already been delivered and have been unpacked (not opened!) and stored in our top secret vault that looks suspiciously like a lockable cabinet (hmmm…should I be joking about this?? Ah well…).  ELA assessments will be given to 5th-8th graders on the mornings of April 14-16, while mathematics will be given to the same grades from April 22-24.

We’ll run an adjusted schedule for those days…students will still report to homeroom as normal and after announcements we’ll have our testing session for the whole school.  Following completion of the time allotment, we’ll be on an adjusted schedule.  Students will see all their teachers each day, though periods will be shorter.  Students who have extended time on tests as part of a 504 or IEP will be able to continue working.

What do students do who aren’t taking the assessments?

In some states, there is a formal process for parents or guardians to “opt out” their student(s) from certain assessments.  In our state, those who don’t wish their students to take the assessments essentially “refuse” the assessment.  There has been growing controversy state-wide over practices that some schools used for students who were “refused” by parents/guardians to take the assessments.  You may have heard of “sit and stare” where students not taking the assessments stayed in the same room as their test-completing classmates, and were not able to do anything else.  Good people on both sides of the issue were passionate about this method specifically.  At NMS, we’ve never employed that model.  Students whose parents or guardians refuse to allow them to take the assessments report to homeroom for attendance purposes and then head to the main office with reading materials.  The staff members who are assigned to supervise them lead the group to a classroom and students are allowed to read for the duration of testing.  That is a key point—we want them reading, not working on other assignments.  Once the testing time is completed for the day, those students go to their normal schedule.

Why haven’t we been sent reminders home regarding the assessments?

One of the main points made by those who disagree with the NYS assessment program is that these assessments cause needless stress on our students—remember that 3rd and 4th graders take them as well.  When these assessments in ELA and math were only for 4th and 8th grade, we used to have information nights and talk up with our students how ready they were to “own” the tests.  But, with feedback that we might have been guilty of over burdening our kids with test preparation and nervousness, we backed off.  We are a school that strives to offer our students and community all those things that our district holds dear: excellence in instruction and care, equity in opportunity and a richly supportive environment.  These assessments are a small part of our school year, and they should not exist in our students’ minds as the end all and be all of their experience here.  To be sure, these assessments are referred to in classrooms—students know they are coming and are prepared to do their best.  We purposely avoid going beyond providing assessment dates on calendars because we don’t wish to give students or parents the impression that this is all that matters.

What happens to students who don’t show proficiency on the NYS assessments?  What happens to students if they don’t take the assessments?

An idea that we hope stays with our readers well beyond this informational blog is that the sum of our kids’ education is infinitely greater than their results on these six days of testing.  If a student scores a one or a two on ELA and / or math, there is no impact on their report card.  If a student’s grades are solid and other indicators like teacher recommendation and parent input are not consistent with the NYS assessment score than it would be a rare case where we’d push for additional instructional services.  If, however, report card grades, teacher recommendation and parent input suggest more supports are needed, then we’ll do everything we can to make that happen.  The purpose of the assessment in our view is that it provides another piece of information that helps us make recommendations regarding the educational plan of a student.  If a student does not, for whatever reason, take the assessments, those decisions and recommendations are simply made without the information from those assessments.

Be honest.  What’s your take?

Ok…I don’t love the Business First rankings…but I love when we’ve improved in them…even if I don’t have a clear understanding of their formulas.  In the same way, I don’t love everything about the Common Core assessments, which we’ve seen since this time in 2013.  But…I do like to see how “we” do.  By we, I don’t mean just our students.  This summer we received from NYSED I believe 50% of the test questions on the ELA and math from 2014.  The information included state averages for each question, as well as our own school, our own county and other schools throughout the state.  It even showed what percentage of students chose which incorrect responses.  It was fascinating to see where our students excelled, where they struggled, where we exceeded local averages, and where we performed lower than others near us.  The “we” is all of us…principal, teacher, counselor, students…

I’m in favor of the assessments if they are used for (in my view) the right reasons.  The purpose of these assessments should be simply this: feedback without fear.  That phrase has been used by many others and it hits home.  We should be learning from these assessments…all of us.  These tests should not cause any student to say, “If I fail this, I fail the year,” or “If I fail this, my teacher is going to be mad,” or “If I fail this, my principal is going to get fired!”  (wait…don’t put that idea in anyone’s head…)  There are debates over the evaluation system that will continue, and hopefully the result will be that all of us can exist in a mostly “feedback without fear,” mode.  Our kids though should never fear feedback, and they shouldn’t lose sleep over the assessments.  I advocate that, to our kids anyway, we underreact, tell them to do their best on the assessments, and leave the arguing for the adults.

Feel free to contact me at school or via email with any concerns regarding testing or any other school matter.  We respect your thoughts and beliefs as parents and guardians…your support for your kids is amazing and we will continue to work to be worthy or your trust.  And tell those 5th-8th graders that I’ll see them on Monday!!

Peace, Love and Understanding

Alright…not the most engaging title perhaps…but let me explain.  Driving home from work last week, between the previews of the first of the Sweet Sixteen match-ups for March Madness, and the chatter on the left end of the dial over the battle for last place in the NHL, I switched to FM.  There played, for the first time in my ears in many a moon, was Elvis Costello’s 1979 hit, “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding.”  For those who wish to give it a look and listen, here it is:

Now the chorus is a bit of an ear worm…it just keeps at the listener and dominates.  But for maybe the first time, I listened to the other lyrics…and for whatever reason, it hit the mood and tone of the day.  A sample:

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And another sample:

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

It’s a pleading song–why can’t we treat each other with a little more “peace, love and understanding.”  What’s so hard about that?  In our role at school…how do you teach it?

For reasons large and small, the words got me to thinking.  It had been a particularly frustrating and disappointing few days with regard to some of the interactions we’ve seen between students.  I am not exaggerating when I say that in one-on-one situations, young adult to adult, our students with few exceptions are sensitive to the needs of others, empathetic to those who are struggling, and are able to see the universal value in the foundation of all character education, treat others the way you want to be treated.  There are times though…that those same students…treat their classmates in a manner that I suppose would be considered shocking.

We certainly still have our angry looks, or pushes in the hallway.  We still have the “I was just joking around” locker closings and the taped note to the back of another. But what we also have are altercations that are sometimes recorded and posted (few, thankfully) online.  We also have social network accounts that are at times used to call another student out blatantly, or used to subtly rattle them.  I’ve spent much time discussing the relative sameness of kids through the generations (the idea that “back in my day, kids knew their place,” is an old falsehood that comes up frequently)…and I do feel that the kids who walk the halls of Newfane Middle are similar to those that first set foot on campus in the late 1940s.  But…the tools that our kids  have at their disposal are powerful beyond compare.  These tools can create a situation where the “kids of today” look infinitely more diabolical than those of previous generations.  Look, perhaps.  But they aren’t.

We’ve known from our own youths, and stories of those who traveled before us, that in all generations there has existed mistreatment of others.  Sometimes it has come in the form of obvious bullies and victims.  As decades pass, there comes a tendency to see those conflicts of youth in a different, almost softer light.  Think of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.  Remember the bully and his friend who tormented Ralphie and his pals?  Scut Farkus…described as yellow-eyed…remember his braces?

farkus

Those scenes are meant to evoke a bit of laughter, and the memory that all of have of that neighborhood bully, the tormentor.  We know from repeated watchings that Ralphie avenges the constant mistreatment in spectacular fashion.  In the movie scene, the bullying is clear cut and the resolution certain.  You can picture an extended family, years later, sitting around a holiday table talking about old times, shaking their heads at the memory of an event that seemed so important, so urgent at the time.  Given the style of the film, and the nostalgic feel of the picture, we never quite feel the fear, even terror, that Ralphie and his friends must have felt in the moment.  The bully in that movie represents the almost ideal form of bully…there’s no question that he’s the bad guy.

Often, mistreatment comes in the form of kids mistreating each other, perhaps to varying degrees, but guilt resides in each.   It leaves one wondering not simply how one could be so cruel, but how they can be so cruel to each other.  They know right from wrong, they know the golden rule…Indeed, what is so funny (or hard) about peace, love and understanding?  Why is it so hard to convince our kids to get along and to savor each others’ company? Or to tolerate each other?  The answer I suppose has many layers, and the causes of conflict are many as well.  Discovering boundaries, listening to rumors, jesting with someone who doesn’t see it as joking, or the desperate search for belonging, for connection…

Regardless the type (shared blame, or 100% on an aggressor), in the moment we can never be sure of the outcome…and how the kids involved will emerge.  What we hope and work towards is protection for those victimized, consequences for those on the attack, and some of each for the not so clear cut situations where both are at fault.  Most of all our desire is for LEARNING to take place on both sides.

Our middle school students are learning just as we learned that we have a choice in our actions.  We have a choice in how we respond to the events around us.  The world might be seeing some “troubled times,” and spirits can certainly get downhearted.  Our pledge to you is that we will continue to try to promote the behaviors, the learning and the beliefs that will allow all of our students to move past the missteps and mistreatment of today, so that they can look back in coming years with a sense that they too overcame those who treated them ill, and that at the same time, learned to avoid doing the same to others.  This teaching and learning will not be perfect, and there will be mistakes made in the growing, by both students and adults.  But if we can daily pledge to promote the good, and to model the good…I think we’ve got a chance.  We’ve got a chance to help our kids enjoy, in  twenty years time, those conversations around the family table…where they won’t laugh necessarily about a Scut Farkus of their youth, but about how they got through some tough moments of their own and emerged the better for it.  To students, parents, family members and friends, keep looking out for each other, and we will do our best to earn and maintain your trust that we are doing the same.  And hopefully, we’ll all find that there’s nothing funny about peace, love and understanding.

All County was ALL WORLD

March greetings!  New plan for the blog–shorter posts, more frequently–you’ll be able to tell how successful soon!

I had the good fortune of attending the last of the three All County Music Fests this past Saturday, held in our beautiful, classic auditorium.  I was lured there certainly by the fact that we had Newfane representation in each of the four groups that performed (Jr High Jazz, Elementary Band, Senior High Orchestra and Jr High Chorus), and the fact that I was able to listen to two of the groups rehearsing during the school day on Friday.  I can’t tell you how much it was a celebration of so much that is laudable in our greater Niagara County community, and the connections that can be made owing to music and dynamic music instruction.

These festivals are organized each year by the dedicated members of the Niagara County Music Educators Association.  The process that allows for these events to take place is ongoing.  Each fall, scores of students take part in Solofest which helps to determine those who will be named to the All County ensembles.  There is feverish work on the solos  and preparation for sight reading for that event, and then even more work for those who will perform in the festivals.  You can imagine the efforts to organize three major concerts involving students from schools all over the county, who each have to navigate their own district’s administration and policies.  Each group has a different chair and conductor…and to see the work they do with the kids, and the connection they make with them…to see the finished product…man, I hope it never stops!

There were so many highlights to share about Saturday..in the interest of keeping my word, I’ll try to be brief.  This event is of course about the kids.  The last song I heard, from the Jr High chorus, left tears welled in my eyes.  But what I took away from more than anything was the collaboration, excellence and cohesiveness of the members of the various components of our district who helped make this happen.  I witnessed two department members chair the entire festival.  I saw another two who were there for their vocal students.  I saw another who was there for her instrumental students, and she was selling tickets.  I saw the custodial staff for our middle school perform Herculean efforts of transitioning our stage from small ensembles to enormous groups, from orchestra seating arrangement to risers for the last group of the day.  I saw parents volunteering to sell food, sell shirts, and guide our guests to where they needed to go.  I witnessed our school nurse give the same level of comfort and care on this Saturday as she does every day in our place.  I saw parents thrilled at the skill and passion of their kids, I saw administrators from other buildings share in the marvel of the event in its entirety.

It was an amazing day…we celebrated the efforts of some amazing kids, and it was an added bit of joy to see the efforts of so many adults help our kids yield such a remarkable result.  Can’t wait ‘til next year–