Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mobile Ag. Lab

Thanks to the initiative of Mrs. Raubenstrauch the elementary students were able to experience the mobile lab "Agriculture in the classroom" last week.  Mrs. Raubenstrauch, working with the Department of Agriculture, wrote a grant to receive over $2,000 to have the mobile lab come to our elementary school.  Every student spent 50 minutes in the lab learning about different aspects of agriculture and agriculture production.  The grant covered the cost of the mobile lab and an instructor provided by the Department of Agriculture.  I can attest to the quality of learning experience because my oldest daughter constantly tells me about what she learned as she uses the lip balm that the students made from bees wax!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Congratulations to David Klein

One of our seniors, David Klein, was chosen as a Big 30 Academic Award winner.  The Big 30 consists of over 37 school districts in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The Big 30 revolves around an all-star football game, but the organization also hands out academic scholarship money.  David was one of four high school seniors from the 37 school district to receive the $1,000.00 scholarship.  The scholarship is based on academic performance, community service and school leadership.  Congratulations David, this is a big honor!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May Budget Presentation

At the Board meeting last night the school board received a presentation from the Finance Manager, Mr. Rhoads on the latest school district budget. The school Board approved a preliminary budget in February that included a 1 mill tax increase and about $350,000 in spending cuts. As described in a blog post in March, the Governor’s budget cut about an additional $350,000 from the school district’s funding. When all is said and done, the school district is spending at the same level as the 2005-2006 school year. I am proud to report that while the spending of the school district is going down, our achievement scores are rising. This reflects the commitment of the Board and the teachers to raise the level of effective instruction for the school district’s children. While the budget does not include furloughs of employees or cutting of absolutely essential services for the children, there is one area of concern that the school board must be attentive to.

The district and all community members must realize that the budget takes a significant amount of money from “reserves” (i.e. the savings account) to balance the budget. I believe this is a proper use of the reserve funds, but the projections for the reserve fund show that it will be gone after 4 more years. At that time, there will be very difficult decisions to be made regarding personnel and programming. Of course, being an optimist, I hope that the economy improves enough over that time period that the school district’s revenues will make any further cuts unnecessary.

Please feel free to visit the school district’s web site or stop in the district office to review the budget. The budget reflects a conservative financial approach while maintaining vital educational programs and services.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thank you to Walmart

WalMart in St. Marys recently donated $250.00 to the Ridgway High School Yearbook.  The Yearbook club used the funds to help support their "Kids Night Out" program that runs throughout the year.  Kids Night Out is a fundraiser that the Yearbook Club uses to help offset the price of the yearbooks for students.  I want to thank Mrs. Buhite (the Yearbook advisor) and all of the students on the yearbook staff for their help and dedication to make sure the yearbook gets produced.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Show Choir at Disney

I apologize for my lack of blogging has been very hectic in the school district as we prepare for the budget, the end of the year, the summer programs we run for teachers and students and planning for the upcoming school year. I will have more information on all of those items in the next few weeks.

I am very proud to tell you that our show choir who had the opportunity to perform in Disney in Florida over the Easter Holiday. Besides the fact the students had the opportunity to get away from the cold rain of northwest Pennsylvania, the students had the opportunity to perform in professional setting and see what life is like for professional entertainers. The following statement is from Mrs. Morley-Palmer, the choir director.
"The Ridgway Show Choir students were Disney cast members for the day on Saturday April 23. They not only performed at Downtown Disney but were lucky enough to spend time with full time Disney cast members for an impromptu Master Class. Students spent about a half hour in a question and answer session and learned the audition process, college credit opportunities, and what a day as a cast member entails."
Congratulations to the students on a great job and thank you to Mrs. Morley-Palmer and all of the adult chaperones.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How I use Twitter

I have a confession to make…I like (and use) Twitter. I know, I know you are thinking to yourself “who wants to know that Tom Butler is now eating supper” or some sort of similar inane nonsense. Let me tell you, Twitter can be (and is) used for more than to update the social happenings of celebrities or common folk. As a matter of fact, Twitter has been the BEST new way that I have found to learn about the world we live in. Let me explain.

Twitter can (and is) used for inane updates on the minutia of people’s lives. I thought the same things for a few years. Then last year I was reading about the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the article pointed out that Lance Armstrong (the 7 time winner of the Tour de France and cancer survivor) had more Twitter followers then the Wall Street Journal had subscribers. Wow, that got my attention…so I joined Twitter and started to “follow” Lance Armstrong. He posts passionately about the need for preventative measures to reduce the rate of cancer. (I suggest you research his foundation if you are interested in cancer prevention) My education for the positive uses of Twitter started with the realization that good social outcomes could come from passing information through this medium. My “Twitter education” followed four steps.

1. I slowly started to familiarize myself with Twitter and how to control the various features available. I started by “following” Lance Armstrong. I realized that I do not have to “tweet” if I do not want to and I could just “follow” people (which means that when they tweet, I get their update).

2. I then searched for educators on Twitter and found incredible resources available. Since Twitter only allows a person to tweet 140 characters most people that I “follow” simply link to a web site or a blog they find interesting with a very short introduction on their tweet.

3. I then started to notice that many organizations and web sites have a Twitter account. Some of these were interesting to me and I started to follow them. I also found that some of my favorite authors use Twitter quite a bit.

4. Finally, I have used my Twitter account as a repository of information that I glean from the internet. I simply tweet (link) information to myself which allows me to know where this interesting information is (easy access).

I have since stopped following Lance Armstrong because I did not want to have an overload of tweets from the 14 people/organizations that I follow. However, the educators and authors that I follow have helped me gain a deeper understanding of education, society, and how to improve the world we live in. I am a big fan (as if you couldn’t tell) of Twitter as a source for great information. I welcome you to go to my Twitter account (@TomButler10) and see how I use this web 2.0 resource. You will have to get an account to do a search, but the accounts are free.

P.S. Once you have an account, you can "tweet" this blog entry by clicking on the Twitter icon at the end of the blog entry.

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Defense of Teachers

Today I want to discuss the importance of teachers. Specifically, I will discuss the importance of teachers in a public school setting. If you were to believe most politicians and the majority of the media outlets, you would believe that public school teachers are incredibly selfish individuals who don’t like children, spend all of their “free time’ commiserating with each other about how to spend all of their money they earn and planning for a “fat cat” retirement. (Never mind that teachers earn 14% less as a public employee than they would in the private sector) That is the myth, let’s talk reality. In my 20 years experience in public schools, the vast, vast majority of teachers care deeply about their students and sacrifice mightily to help their “kids” as much as possible. Teachers also make connections with (and act as role models for) students. Let me give you a personal example.

My youngest son went to an Easter egg hunt on Saturday and won a silver dollar. The first words out of his mouth after he told us he had won were “I am going to tell Mrs. Peterson she… will be excited.” Mrs. Peterson is his kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Peterson has made a connection with my son that has helped him academically and socially. She has taken time out her busy day to help him with some coping skills; worked with my wife and I on a plan to have consistency to help him with coping skills; she has taken his academics farther than we thought possible; and most importantly, she has become his greatest “cheerleader” to let him (and his parents) know that he is a wonderful little boy. What more could you want from a teacher? As wonderful as Mrs. Peterson is for our son, most teachers in our school system act in similar ways. My wife was waiting in the elementary hallway for a teacher conference a few weeks ago and she told me that she had a wonderful sense of caring from the staff for all of the children. As she listened to teachers talk to parents about their children she sensed how passionate the teachers were for their jobs and how they wanted to help all children. We feel very lucky that our children are in a system where the adults care deeply about all children.

Now you will not hear these types of stories from politicians and the media because they do not fit the narrative of the greedy teacher. That is too bad because the truth is far different from what they want to portray. I am here to tell you that RASD has teachers that care deeply about kids and will work hard to help your child.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Community Meeting Tonight

There will be a community meeting tonight in the elementary school cafeteria at 6:00PM.  The meeting is part of a series of meetings that will determine alternate "indicators of success" for the school district.  Presently, the school district is "judged" largely on how well the students do on the State mandated tests (the PSSA's).  Although this is one indicator, I think we all feel that there are other indicators that more accurately reflect how well the school district is educating our youth.  Our goal for the meeting will be to develop a list of other indicators of success.  I will then present to the Board in May a report of my meetings with teachers, students, and the community and what other indicators of success the school district will use alongside the PSSA test.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mrs. Francis Dilulio

Today I will discuss another retirement. Mrs. Dilulio’s last day in the district is today. Mrs. D. grew up in Johnsonburg, the oldest daughter in a family of seven. She feels that her experience helping younger siblings instilled in her a desire to become a teacher. As a matter of fact, she says, “I never thought that there was any other option in my life other than going to college and becoming a teacher”. Mrs. D. graduated from Edinboro University in 1977 and immediately started to work as a long term substitute in Ridgway. Mrs. D. has spent the past 33 years teaching and has taught in every grade from Kindergarten to 8th grade (with the exception of 7th grade). She has spent the last 18 years as a second grade teacher.

I know a little bit more about Mrs. D’s teaching because my oldest daughter was blessed to have her as a teacher two years ago. Mrs. D. cultivated a side of our daughter that is very hard to “get out”. Mrs. D. has the uncanny ability to make every child feel as if every interaction in the classroom is personal to only them. Mrs. D. is simply one of the best teachers that you will experience anywhere. She creates an atmosphere of caring that allows all of her students to thrive and learn. Her expectations for academic excellence and behavior are very high and the kids consistently meet and exceed those standards. Visiting Mrs. D. today was very hard for me personally and professionally. It was difficult personally because of the deepest respect I have for her as a person. It was hard professionally because the school district simply cannot replace a teacher of the quality of Mrs. Dilulio.

I cannot forget to mention that Mrs. D. has had a “partner” in education for the past 27 years. Mrs. D. and Mrs. Mercer have been working alongside each other for the majority of their careers. Mrs. Mercer arrived a few years after Mrs. D. when Mrs. Mercer was hired in the middle school. The two moved to the elementary school together 18 years ago to teach second grade where they have been ever since. While visiting Mrs. D. today I was impressed with how much respect these two educators have for each other. As Mrs. D. told me “We are like sisters”.

I asked Mrs. D. what her biggest reward that she got from teaching she replied, “My biggest reward is seeing my students when they are grown up and succeeding in the real world; how amazing to realize that the high school principal, many of my co-workers, and even my mother’s home nurse were once taught by me”. Mrs. D. continues by saying that “Teaching has truly captivated my life”.

Finally, I have a story that speaks to the power of Mrs. D’s influence on her students. A few years ago one of our middle school students was struggling academically and emotionally. The student was in danger of dropping out. In a last ditch attempt to prevent that from happening our school psychologist asked the student if there was anyone in their life that they could hear from that would help them in her situation. The student immediately said, “Mrs. Dilulio”. Mrs. D. quickly sent a “care” package to the student and started a correspondence with the student that helped them through the tough patch. I can’t think of a better testament to an outstanding teacher.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Board Workshop Meeting Tonight

There will be a school board workshop meeting tonight at 6:00PM at the F.S.G. Elementary School library. The workshop agenda can be found here. The workshop is a meeting where the Board discusses potential action items for the upcoming Board meeting. Some items make it to the agenda at the regular Board meeting, while others do not. The process the School Board uses for making decisions is to have a workshop meeting one week prior to the regular board meeting. The meeting is open to the public and the public is invited to speak just like at the regular board meeting. There is usually a short executive session where the Board discusses legal or personnel issues. Most workshop agendas are driven by four types of potential actions: those items that must be considered every month, items considered seasonally, items considered yearly, and items that require special, immediate attention because of their uniqueness.

Yearly approvals are appointments for solicitor and other services. For example during this month, the school district is appointing an insurance broker. In addition there are regular agenda items that are discussed at almost every workshop. Examples include approving substitutes, bus drivers, and conferences and field trips. Additionally, there are items that come up seasonally. Approval of coaches, weight room supervisors, policy changes, Act 80 days approval, budget discussions and the long term maintenance fund are examples of this category from this workshop agenda. Finally, there are those items that are unusual or require the immediate attention from the Board. For example, the Board is grappling with the whether or not to have the auditor come and review the audit that had no “findings”. The Board must also review the superintendent’s evaluation in executive session this month.

I wanted to give you an overview of a “typical” workshop agenda and the process the Board uses to make decisions. I welcome you to the meeting tonight if you have the time or inclination to attend.