Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Dad and a Gingerbread House

Dad and Daughter

Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping in my daughter's second grade class as the students built gingerbread houses. What a blast. Mrs. O'Hara and the entire second grade team had their students build gingerbread houses using graham crackers. It was wonderful to watch the students create something and put their own mark on a creation. It was messy, a little noisy and a GREAT TIME! Mrs. O'Hara managed to use the lesson as a way to reinforce some thinking skills. When the students were ready to "accessorize" their creation she asked them to stop, think and make a plan just like they do when approaching some math problems. I also liked the day because I was "dad", not the superintendent.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 District Report Card

Pennsylvania compiles a "report card" for every school district in the Commenwealth.  The report card is based on the results of the PSSA test scores.  The report card allows anyone to "dig deep" into the PSSA data.  RASD has a lot to be proud of regarding the improvement in PSSA scores over the past few years; although there is still work to be done.  The link to the report card is on the district web site as well as here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Congratulations to the Chorus students

I took my family to the Middle School/High School Christmas Chorus Concert last week and we really enjoyed the music.  I have asked Mrs. Morley-Palmer to "guest blog" and share with you all of the good things that our chorus students are participating in.

The choir students have been very busy for the past 5 years. They have performed in Florida, Bermuda, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York. The students have participated in a Pirate Dinner Theater, cruised the Atlantic, taken a class on Sports in Theater on Broadway, seen both Young Frankenstein and Addams Family on Broadway, and toured the Jamestown Colony in Williamsburg, Virginia, along with spending a day at both Busch Gardens, VA and Six Flags in New Jersey.
On November 12th, 2010 the show choir held a dance-a-thon to raise money for the trip to Florida. During this dance-a-thon the students made a dvd to submit to Disney for consideration to perform on a Disney stage during the choir's upcoming trip in April 2011. The songs performed for the audition were Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing, Swing, Swing arranged by Tom Anderson and "Boy from New York City" arragned by Kirby Shaw. The choir has been chosen to perform at Disney. Three weeks prior to the performance the choir will be notified of the time and location of their performance. The only information given so far is that the choir will be performing on Saturday April 23, 2011.

Thank you Mrs. Morley-Palmer!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unsung Heroes of the School District

I would like to write about all of the people in the school district that keeps things running in the background.  Truly, if it was not for the custodians, secretaries, aids, kitchen staff, maintenance men and contracted bus drivers this district would not be able to function.  I was told by a wise professor when I graduated from Penn State in 1991 that there are two people that I must get to know when I started my first job.  I expected him to say that I should get to know the principal and superintendent.  However, he told me that the two most important people in most schools is the head custodian and the office secretary because they know what is really going on in the schools.  I know that I learn an incredible amount of important things about the buildings and the students through conversations with all of the support staff.  I have also experienced how my own children react when they see a custodian or someone else outside of school…they go running to them and want to give them a hug!  We have great people that work for this district and I am proud of the job that our support staff does for our children.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Budget Talk Already?

Yes, it is time to start thinking about the school district budgeting process. According to Act 1, Pennsylvania school districts must decide in January whether or not they will raise taxes above the Act 1 index. This index is provided by the State to every school district. The school district cannot raise taxes above that index without going to a voter referendum. I do not believe that the school district will ask for a tax increase that will be above the Act 1 minimum (about 1 mill). With that being said, I want to share with you some of the factors that will be part of the decision making process as the school district works through the budgeting process.

1. The school district is basing much of our budgeting information on the five year budget model that has been used for almost one year. The model allows the district to input various amounts of information to predict where the budget will be in five years. The biggest impact that the model has had so far is the decision this Fall to offer an early retirement incentive to try to decrease our payroll liability.

2. The new political environment in Harrisburg. The amount of State funding available for public education has increased almost every year since Governor Rendell took office. A new Governor and a Legislature dominated by republicans will probably mean less money available for public education.

3. The five year non-negotiable goals for student achievement and instruction will focus the school board on priorities in the school budget.

4. The impact of the pension “solution” put forth by the legislature to respond to the issues that are occurring in the pension.

5. Finally, the retirement incentive will play a large part in the budgeting process as the school district decides on who will be replaced and what positions do not get replaced.

There are some tough decisions that will need to be made in the upcoming months. I am confident that the school district will continue to focus on what is best for the children.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blogging for Education Reform

November 22nd was “blog for education reform” day. The goal was to have many people blog about education reform to allow many different views and opinions to be heard across the country. I just found out about this effort so I am now going to contribute my two cents to the national discussion.

I have stated earlier in this blog that education must move away from reform and move toward transformation. Transformation must be a local decision based on local needs considering local sensibilities. Public education is too important for community sustainability for educators not to consider “radical” ideas within the system. I think right now the most radical idea would seem to be that local control is not only important, but essential. The educational policy landscape is overwhelmed with national and state initiatives that are being force-fed to local communities; a good exemple is a national curriculum. NCLB, Race to the Top, data collection schemes all tear control of the schools away from the local communities. I understand that there is a role for the Federal and State governments in education. After all, basic civil right must be protected and local communities (at least in the past) at times may not want to honor those rights. However, I am concerned that our children are being cheated from an enriching curriculum when schools are forced to implement a curriculum produced and created for a national audience. Where is the local relevance for students? Just some thoughts of mine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Chorus Concert

The Middle School/High School Chorus concert will take place this Thursday, December 9th at 7:00PM in the high school auditorium.  Please come and enjoy the great sounds of the seasons!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Middle School Play

I have asked Mr. Bill Connelly to be a "guest blogger" today to talk about the middle school play.

"Middle school students presented the musical “Metaphasia”  on November 18th , 19th , & 20th. The hours spent learning lines, songs, and dance routines paid off as the combined efforts of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students involved in the musical turned this contemporary version of the Brothers Grimm tale “Twelve Dancing Princesses” into a hit. The talent displayed by the cast of 22 students was evident as they sang and danced their way into the hearts of everyone in attendance. Congratulations to Mrs. Palmer, the students, the parents, and everyone else involved in the musical. Well done!!!!"
The play was a resounding success thanks to the students and the work of Mrs. Palmer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Recommendation

I try not to make this blog too “personal”.  In other words, I believe that people read this blog to learn more about the school and what is happening with the school district.  However, I am going to make an exception today.  I have been reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba.  The story is about how a 14 year old boy living in Malawi made a windmill for his village from spare bicycle parts and old pvc pipes.  The story is much more detailed then just the story of the windmill.  The author describes in detail how his family and village survived a famine in 2001.  Reading the story of how the family and village survived the famine lets the reader be inspired by the power of hope, community, and faith (especially faith).  No matter how bad the situation was (and it was bad for political reasons more than environmental reasons) William’s family and friends never stopped believing in each other.  I was also struck by the importance that the family and community placed on education.  Although the schools are not anything that we would recognize in the United States, the students are expected to perform at high levels and the students recognize that education can improve their lives.  This book is a must read.  It is hard to read at times because of the graphic descriptions of suffering during the famine, but in the end you will walk away with the resiliency of the human spirit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Last night and tonight (at 7:00PM) students of F.S.G. performed "Alice in Wonderland".  I attended the performance last night and I was very impressed by the performances of the students.  I am also impressed by the hard work that Mr. Phipps and the parent volunteers put into creating the custumes and the stage.  the highlight was the "black light" that made characters glow in the dark.  These pictures only catch a small portion of the visual effect.  Very well done!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NHLA Lumber Grading "Short Course"

This week, the school district sponsored a lumber grading "short course" for students of Ridgway and Johnsonburg along with adults from the community.  Overall, 23 people participated in the course.  The "short course" is a four day course that helps prepare students to take the longer, full-fledged lumber grading course.  Students spend the first day reviewing basic math skills.  Things like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions are stressed.  The students then move on to actually learning how to grade lumber.  Barry Kibbe from the National Hardwoods Lumber Association teaches the class.  This is the third year the school district has run the class.  I am very excited about this class and I believe it gives our students real life experiences that can help them as they look for employment in our community.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From My Favorite Philosopher

Yesterday, my favorite philosopher (my 6 year old son) came up with another saying that really made me think.  Last night as we were preparing supper my son looked at me and said “Dad, I don’t like it when you have that look on your face.  You look unhappy”.  Generally I don’t mind fixing supper, but I must have had an “unhappy” look at that time.  My son went on to say, “When you look like that it makes me ‘wild up’”.  I asked him what “wild up” meant.  He then told me that the unhappy look on my face made him want to act bad and yell.  Can you imagine how a simple facial expression has such a powerful affect on a young child?  Better yet, imagine being a teacher who is constantly on stage with little ones always looking at you for guidance and hints on how to act.  This is a powerful lesson for educators.  Students are constantly taking their cues from us.  More than the content that we teach, the way in which we act and interact with students and other adults will have an everlasting effect on the students.   I probably tend to make too much of these little occurrences with my son, but I can’t help but think that little kids are more profound than some of us adults!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Enrichment Field Trip

I have posted a letter from Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Cortina discussing the field trip that the high school and middle school gifted students took last month.  There is also a picture collage of the trip.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2010 PSSA Results

The 2010 PSSA results are in and they show that the school district is making progress toward meeting the NCLB goal of 100% proficiency.  Students at RASD are achieving at all time high levels.  In Math, 83% of the students are proficient.  In Reading 70% of the students are proficient.  The district leadership team and teachers have analyzed the data further and have identified area of concentration.  First, the school district is focusing efforts on Literacy Training at all grade levels.  Literacy is a “gatekeeper” skill and the district must assure that students have the highest literacy capabilities.  Second, the school district is focusing on making sure special education students are exposed to the same rigorous curriculum as the rest of the students. Finally, the school district is pleased with the progress in math scores.  The increase can be attributed to a focus on researched based instructional strategies, formative assessment, and a collaborative culture utilizing professional learning communities.  These activities will be further expanded to continue RASD’s rise in test scores.  You can view a presentation that I gave to the school board about the PSSA results here.  The presentation gives much more detail about the PSSA scores and shows comparisons to other schools in the region.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Walking Backward

Yesterday my favorite philosopher (my 6 year old son) helped me realize something very profound. Now, he does not mean to be a philosopher, but readers of the blog know that he has had at least one very profound statement about education and “learning”. Yesterday, I watched him get off the bus and start walking backward down the street. I wondered why he would want to walk backward all of that way. I thought about it for a little bit and I finally realized the answer. He was walking backward because it was fun and he just wanted to do it. When is the last time you walked down the street backward just because it was fun? Better yet, when was the last time you did something just because it was fun and was going to make you happy?

Lately, as I think about the direction of education and all of the “speed bumps” school district must maneuver around, I am afraid that all of us in education may forget to "walk backward". We forget that we are dealing with kids that just want to “walk backward” sometime. Let’s keep education simple. Teach the kids things that are useful to them in life in a way that is interesting and engaging. Period…and then we can all go outside and walk backward!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

RASD Receives $5,000 Grant

Mr. Oknefski researched grant opportunities to restart the robotics program at Ridgway.  He was fortunate to find funding from the Elk County Community Foundation.  The following is a statement from Mr. Oknefski.

Ridgway Area School District needed an alternative way to teach robotics which is becoming a huge field not only in the surrounding area but around the country. Robotics has proven itself not only fun but extremely educational because robotics has the ability to integrate science, technology, engineering, and math seamlessly all while keeping students engaged. Robotics is also not a cookie cutter curriculum because it allows each student to creatively think of solutions to problems and then build a robot to solve the problem. When the robot is built, students have the option to manually operate the robot using a remote control, or they can program it using software to repeat steps over and over just like a robot in production.

Last year, Mr. Oknefski wrote a grant explaining all the benefits that robotics can have on education and explained how Ridgway could be a model program. Excitement and publicity in the program could cause other schools in the area to peruse education using robots enhancing an entire community as well as the counties educational experience. It does just stop in the school. After school, students who have been taught using robots will be able to take their knowledge into the workforce, college, or the military and succeed and expand from there.

The Elk County Community Foundation graciously agreed to give our school district a $5,000 grant towards the purchase of the robots. With that money, plus some given by our school, we will be able to purchase four Vex robots and two computers that will have the appropriate curriculum and software downloaded onto it. The robots will be used in the pre-engineering II class to accommodate 8 students (working in pairs) this year and could possibly be expanded into a class of its own in the future. We also anticipate students competing in events using vex robots. I hope to see an excitement and knowledge gained from the use of these robots. If it is as big as a success as I anticipate, I hope others will see its importance and choose to push the program further. It would be a real accomplishment to see the education in this field to continue with a large amount of students using their brains to find creative solutions to problems they are faced with.

Monday, September 27, 2010

RASD Receives Grant for a Mobile Agriculture Lab

Through the hard work of Mrs. Raubenstrauch, the students at the elementary school will be able to enjoy a different learning experience. The "mobile ag. lab" is a mobile science lab designed for students in grades K-8. The lab will allow the school district to offer an enriched learning experience for our students. The mobile lab will blend in well with the work that the school district is doing to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture to our society. In addition, both the Middle School and the Elementary School had student run gardens this year. This is a great opportunity for our students. Mrs. Raubenstrauch received a grant for $2,000 which will cover the cost (except for $300.00) for having the lab here for one week. To learn more about the mobile lab, please click here. Be patient while the link loads, it may take awhile.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Farmer's Market Day

Today the elementary school celebrated the second annual farmer’s market day.  This is a day when students learn about local foods and discuss farming with local farmers.  The food that children ate came from local sources, with some of the food originating in the school garden.  The school district was happy to have three local farmers (Cliff and Jeanetter Stump and Ron McMinn) come to the school to talk about different vegetables and other farming related activities.  In addition, the farmers stayed and helped serve the children.  The students ate hamburgers cooked on the grill by Cliff Stump and me.  It was fun cooking over 400 hamburgers!  The school district hopes to raise awareness in the students on the importance of healthy, locally grown food.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the day.  A special thanks goes out to Mrs. Urmann for organizing the day for the students.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Communication System

The school district will be using a new communication tool this year. In an effort to meet one of the school board's non-negotiable goals, the school district is using a company called Global Connect to increase the quality of our communication with parents. This system will be used to help the schools and the district office "get the message out" to parents on issues and concerns of the school district. The one use that immediately comes to mind for this system is for late starts and school closings in the winter. One call from me can be sent within seconds to everyone that is signed up in the system. Beyond this obvious use, each school can send reminders and important announcements to parents of children in their school. For example, if a principal wants to remind parents that a school play will take place, a message can be sent reminding parents to attend the event. You may have seen the signup sheets for this system come home from school within the past week. Please return the required information so the school can help you stay informed!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Fascinating Discussion about Education

I recently came across this talk about the power of facilitating children's interest and education. The video is about 17 minutes long but it is well worth the time spent to watch it. My "takeaway" from this video is that educators, parents and communities cannot underestimate the intellect and drive of children. Teachers will always be necessary, but, as the speaker says, "If the children have interest, education happens". I hope you enjoy the video.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

School Gardens

Today you are viewing the results of the two school gardens in the school district. This year the school gardens received a big boost from Natalie Aiello from PSU Cooperative extension and the Master Gardener program. In the schools, Mrs. Peterson in the high school/middle school and Mrs. Raubenstrauch in the elementary school spearheaded the efforts for the students. The experience for the students was very good. According to Mrs. Raubenstrauch, “this was a great learning opportunity for the children. They were involved from the beginning and we incorporated many different lessons into the garden. The children even got to eat a purple carrot!” I am a firm believer in the power of “hands on” learning and any time a student is getting their hands dirty working in dirt (I feel) is a good thing. Natalie Aiello has been an outstanding proponent of the gardens and has helped the teachers and students immeasurably. In the elementary school some of the extra vegetables will be given to the cafeteria and will be used in student lunches. Enjoy the pictures!
FSG Garden

Monday, August 30, 2010

Student Internet Access at Home

RASD is in the beginning stages of attempting to increase the ease and amount of community and parent involvement in the school. The foundation for this effort is a new school web site. The web site will allow easy access for parents to have conversations with teachers and administrators while at the same time monitoring their children’s class. One question that must be answered is this: how many students/parents are without internet access? In an attempt to get a ballpark figure of internet access of our community, the district conducted a survey of students asking, “Do you have internet access at home?” Granted this is unscientific, but it will show a ballpark figure of internet access. The overall figures show that about 12% of our student/parents do not have internet access at home (125 students in grades 1 through 12). The highest percentage of students WITHOUT internet access at home is in the elementary school, while the high school has the largest percentage of students WITH internet access. This raises some interesting points.

1. Most of our students have internet access at home.

2. The student body is well positioned for online learning opportunities.

3. How can the school district help make facilities available after school for those students that do not have internet access?

I thought that these figures would be interesting for you. Let me know what you think.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Student Enrollment at RASD

The student enrollment for RASD now stands at 1002. This figure is up from the 984 students that the district ended the year with in June and also an increase compared to the 989 that the district started with last school year. I hope that the trend toward higher enrollment continues. RASD has several initiatives that will improve education and hopefully increase enrollment. First, the district has started our own virtual academy to make our curriculum and teachers more accessible. The school district also sent seven teachers to be retrained in Advanced Placement classes in an effort to increase the rigor in those classes. Finally, RASD is "mapping" its curriculum this year. What this means is that at the end of the year the teachers and administrators will be able to sit down and see a map of all areas taught in every class. We can then look for redundancies and "holes" in the curriculum. This will assure that the students are getting the best curriculum possible. RASD is moving forward!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teachers Are Back!

Yesterday was the day that I always look forward to every summer…the first day of school for teachers. I look forward to this day because the teachers come into the new school year with enthusiasm for the upcoming school year. The teachers have three days of school before the first students arrive. The district’s professional development committee builds the professional learning for the entire school year including the first three days. My opening day power point is here. The first day (August 23rd) was dedicated to a guest speaker. Dr. James Manley (The 2009 Pennsylvania Superintendent of The Year) spoke to the staff about his experiences as a superintendent for 27 years. Dr. Manley also worked with the teachers to start to form a vision of what education will look like in the future for RASD. I will have more about the results in a later blog post.

Today, the teachers are in training all day. They will be learning about data analysis, team teaching techniques, questioning strategies in the classroom, and they will learn how to set up their personal profile and classroom pages on Echalk (the school district’s new web site). Tomorrow the teachers will be in their respective schools doing any last minute preparation for the return of the students.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cost Savings at RASD

Today I would like to discuss some of the cost cutting measures the school district has taken this summer and the consequences of those cost cutting measures. If you have followed this blog for awhile, you may remember a discussion about the school district’s five year budget model. Based on the budget model (which includes less governmental funding and increased pension costs), even if the district raises property taxes one mill a year the district would still be over two million dollars in debt in five years. Obviously cost savings is in order. The administration will present a rough draft of a cost savings plan to the board in September. In the meantime, the district has not replaced three teachers that have resigned this summer. The savings to the school district is close to $150,000. This has resulted in increased class sizes in the elementary school. Even though class sizes are larger than in the past, the Kindergarten and First grade class sizes are still below twenty per class, and the largest class sizes are only 24 students per class. The district will provide added supports in these classes and I am confident that there will be no detrimental effect on education.

You may also hear some talk in the national news about how the federal government is providing funds to the States to “save teacher jobs”. This sounds very good in theory but the devil is in the details. I anticipate that the school district will receive no new funds to “save” teachers jobs. Rather, I suspect that the State will simply substitute this money with funds the school district is already going to receive. In other words, the State will simply use the “new” money to replace money that is already budgeted for education. I could be wrong about this, but based on past practice this is what I anticipate occurring. I will keep you updated on any changes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Reading Program

The Ridgway Area School District conducted a summer reading program this year. The district received "stimulus" finds to operate the program so there were no "local dollars" used in the operation of the program. The program consisted of three separate weeks of instruction for students of Ridgway Area School District. The ability to read is so important in a global society. Reading is a "gatekeeper" skill that can either open up doors for advancement for students who can read well or keep the door closed to new opportunities if you cannot read well. Ridgway Area School District wants to make sure our student’s will be able to read well. The school board at Ridgway has made a commitment to literacy training for our students by making literacy instruction a nonnegotiable goal. The program has had an attendance of approximately 130 students during the three weeks with about 80 students being served (some students attended multiple weeks). I am proud of the work that the elementary staff has done to make sure the summer reading program was a huge success. The school district will be able to continue the reading program one more year with the stimulus funding available. In the future, the school board will have to make a decision about how to fund the program with local dollars.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Final Numbers for the Summer Food Program

I apologize for not updating this blog recently. I have been away from a computer and I still have not figured out "mobile blogging". The school district completed the first summer of offering hot lunches to the summer parks program. It was a successful endeavor. During the last week the school district served 150 lunches on each of the three days the summer parks program ran. Overall, the school district served 1,542 lunches over 18 days. I want to thank the cafeteria staff for working very hard to make this program a success....good job!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rough Draft of the School District's New Web Page

I am very excited about some of the initiatives that the school district will have in place for the upcoming school year. The one I will discuss today revolves around the school district's efforts to better communicate with the community. To step back a little bit, one of the five year non-negotiable goals that the school Board created during the last school year was to "better communicate achievement progress with all stakeholders". In an effort to meet this goal, the school district has identified its web page as one area of needed improvement. There are many times when the school district has received feedback that the web page needs to be more robust and have more information. With that in mind, I am pleased to give you a "sneak peak" into a very rough draft of what the new web site will look like. This web page will not be active for another month (until then the old web site will be used), but I wanted to share with you the new look of the web page. The rough draft of the page does not have some of the parts the final product will have; for instance, the final page will have a scrolling banner and many more links for information. However, I thought that you may like to see the general overview of the new page.

Monday, July 12, 2010

An Interesting talk

I suggest you follow this link and listen to a talk about education by Roger Schank.  I am on the road this week and will not be able to elaborate too much.  I will spend some time at Vanderbilt University where I hope to learn from superintendents from all over the United States.  I also hope that I will be able to learn a little bit more about the "Southern Agrarians" while at interesting group indeed.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer Parks Program Update

On the June 17th blog I discussed how the school district is offering hot lunches for the kids that participate in the summer parks program.  I want to let you know that the program (and the food) has been a big hit.  The school district is serving between 85 and 100 lunches three times a week to students in the parks program.  This is a great opportunity for the kids!

I am attending a superintendent's institute at Vanderbilt University next week.  I will try to mobile blog while I am there. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Blendedschools Continued...

 I have included a comment from the last blog posting for your perusal. A friend of mine (and the school district) commented about the tension that can easily exist when you use technology to "open the world" to your students while at the same time helping students appreciate where they live. I have literally lost sleep over this question. We must provide the students in the school district the education that will allow them to thrive in the 21st century. I believe this includes the ability to sort and make sense of an incredible amount of information AND learn the culture, mores, and significance of their local community. In other words, how does the school district foster global citizenship while at the same time teaching the importance of the local community? One simple way to accomplish this task is to encourage the students to become involved in, and learn about, their heritage. This involves more than just their American heritage, but the heritage of their ancestors. Just a thought. I love this comment because it strikes at the heart of the matter.


Great stuff here. It's good to see RASD on the cutting edge. I have two observations.

This first regards the "amount of information." I wonder about the implications. Even back in the encyclopedia days, when the amount of information was limited, most students didn't really engage with it. The best students, sure. But the struggling students? Even then, the "amount" of info seemed to exceed their grasp. I wonder if the more important development is the "variety" of information. That is, it seems like it might be a lot easier for a student to hook into a topic or a field that he or she finds worthwhile. So the kid who hated the textbook version of the Civil War might fall in love with the Shelby Foote version, or the Michael Shaara version. Or might come at it through the world of art or antiques or soldier memoirs. So it's not that we are going to cram more material into the kids' heads, but we might be able to make them more willing to cram it in there themselves.

On the (potential) downside... what does this mean for the concept of place-based learning? I have a strong affinity for the local, in terms of culture and heritage. And I think it's great to expose students to as much culture and heritage as possible. But when everyone has access to everything, does anybody truly own or occupy anything? I have to be careful about this argument, as it can easily cascade into a plea for holding people back, or limiting options. But think in terms of something seemingly simple like cuisine. We love that that there are regional versions of certain dishes in Italy, and that Memphis has a different way of doing BBQ than does Kansas City. One way to perpetuate these interesting variations is to pass them along to the kids. And one way to do that is to raise them with that cuisine, do develop in them a bias.


Is there a way to continue passing this bias along, but still giving kids access to the whole world? Can we convey preferences AND options?

I'm not at all sure.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Today I want to discuss an initiative that the school district has started. I believe that the school district must position itself to “have a seat at the table” in the virtual learning environment. A virtual learning environment is one where the benefits of being “online” will impact our students and staff. The benefits for education (in my opinion) are twofold. First, the amount of information available for our students and staff on the internet is amazing. Think about when many of us were children. I can remember the encyclopedia salesman coming to our house and my parents purchasing an encyclopedia. My family used this encyclopedia for years to help with school work and to look up information; people now have the ability to “Google” their question and receive thousands of options to look for information not from just one encyclopedia. RASD must allow our students a chance to learn in this type of environment and teach them the skills so they can effectively find information on the internet. Second, a virtual environment allows students and teachers an opportunity to collaborate more effectively. Deeper collaboration occurs when students can communicate with each other in an online format and teachers can monitor and contribute to discussions among students online. I do not believe that a computer can replace the benefits of having a teacher in a classroom. However, a “virtual presence” will allow our teachers to enrich and expand the curriculum and instruction for our students.

With that in mind, Ridgway Area School District has joined Blendedschools (“blended” comes from the fact that education will become a blending of traditional “brick and mortar” environment with a virtual environment). Blendedschools allows RASD to place our curriculum in a virtual format so it can be accessed online. RASD will use the virtual format that Blendedschools provides to meet short term and long term goals. The school district’s short term goals for Blendedschools are:

1. Provide resources for our teachers to enrich their curricular and instructional repertoire.

2. RASD will use Blendedschools to teach the school district’s alternative education students

3. RASD will offer “credit recovery” for seniors who did not graduate because they failed a class their senior year. This option will start the week of July 5th.

4. Teachers will be able to place their curriculum on Blendedschools enrich the learning experiences for their students.

In the long term, I believe that Blendedschools will allow RASD to position itself to meet the future of education. The importance of an online presence is important for two reasons:

1. Parents are increasingly “shopping” for the best educational opportunities for their children. The impact on public schools is enormous. Public schools must offer educational opportunities that will expand and enrich the student’s educational experiences. In years to come, I believe that location will not be the determining factor about where students will attend school. Rather, parents will place their students in learning environments that they believe will benefit their students the most. A virtual presence puts RASD in that position.

2. RASD wants to provide the best 21st century learning opportunities for students. To me, a 21st century learning environment is one in which the students and teachers are taking advantage of the information available on the internet and the enhanced collaboration opportunities available in a virtual environment.

I hope this makes sense to you. I am really excited about the future of education and what it means for RASD.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A great Video On What The Future of Education Could Be

A friend forwarded this link to me. Sir Ken Robinson travels around the United States and the world discussing the importance of Arts and creativity for young minds. He believes that children are getting short changed in the current educational system because many schools are starting to cut the Arts and other opportunities for creativity. He believes that the opportunity to create something is an absolute must for children. I happen to agree. As we look into the future, workers that thrive will be those that are creating something. It may be a piece of artwork, a business, an organization, a school...anything; but the creative process will be used. There are school systems in the United States today that are so stressed about meeting the requirements from a high-stake test that they are limiting the curriculum that children receive to only those subjects that are tested on these tests. What a shame. Schools must help students thrive in a democratic society and teaching students to take a test and limiting their learning opportunities to match a test will not accomplish that goal. Click on the link and listen to the video. It is 50 minutes well spent.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Future of Learning…What Does It Mean?

I have given a lot of thought recently about how schools educate students.  I believe that there needs to be a significant change in the United States about how we educate students.  This blog post from the Knowledge Works Foundation starts the conversation:

A world of learning

The vision emerging from our study of the future doesn’t much resemble the industrial-era world of schooling most of us know. Instead, we foresee a world of learning where:

• Education centers on the needs of learners, not those of institutions. Teaching is tailored to an individual student’s needs and abilities.

• Learners take charge of their education. Students and families seek out information and experiences from an array of sources rather than depending on schools to direct their learning.

• Children gain 21st-century knowledge and skills – how to make decisions, solve problems and create solutions – through hands-on experiences that cross subject areas and are connected to the real world.

• Success is judged through a wide array of measures that account for different learning styles and assess capabilities and progress, not simply acquisition of knowledge.

• All learners have easy access to technology and other tools that open doors to information and knowledge.

• Learners are supported in all parts of their lives, with physical, emotional and social health being nurtured alongside intellectual growth.

• Teachers are more than content specialists. The teaching profession diversifies to include such roles as learning coaches, classroom coordinators, cognitive specialists, resource managers and community liaisons.

• Learning isn’t limited to a physical place or time of day, but is mobile and constant, with wireless technologies allowing learning anywhere and anytime.

This envisoning for education is a radical departure from what we have today in K-12 education.  However, a radical departure is what public education needs.  I am haunted by the students that are "lost" in the current schooling system because there is no meaning in school for them.  Systemically public education must change.  I will write more in later blogs about this subject.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lance Corporal Michael G. Plank

Please allow me to stray a little bit from the usual blog topics to talk about one of my students that I had as a guidance counselor at Elkland high school. Michael plank came into the school his senior year. Think about coming into a new school during your senior year and “starting all over again”. Mike handled the situation very well. He did well in school, worked hard and was always respectful. In other words, he was a “good kid”. He graduated from school in 2004. After graduation he got a job and became a “good man”. He joined the United States Marine Corps in February 2009. He shipped out to Afghanistan in March of 2010. He was killed in action on June 9th, 2010. My wife (who taught him in class) and I went to the funeral yesterday. What a sad event. The funereal was simply heartbreaking for a lot of reasons. I was impressed with the outpouring of support from the community. People lined the streets as the funeral ended and the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery. It is the least we could do to show our appreciation. I often hear the word “hero” bantered around quite a bit. I am particularly upset when I hear the word used to describe athletes. I have never really tried to devise my own definition of “hero”, but I am going to try now in an attempt to describe the late Lance Corporal Michael G. Plank. A hero is someone that is willing to sacrifice their comfort (or their life) for the betterment of others in their society or community. By that definition, Mike is hero. Rest in Peace Mike.

The funeral offered my wife and me a chance to see and talk to some of the students that we taught in Elkland. Many of our ex-students that we saw at the funeral were the students that easily slip through cracks in school. They did not get into too much trouble, but they do not thrive in the school system either. These are good “kids” who just did not see a benefit to schooling the way it was offered to them. I feel sad that our school system in the United States does not meet the needs of a lot of our students. Michael Plank was one of those students that the school system could have done a better job to try to reach. Many of his friends were also in the same category. I think of the book Hallowing Out the Middle where the authors point out that rural school systems in the United States often put a majority of their resources into programs for students who will not end up living in the community. In other words, a school’s resources are spent on students who will go away to college and never come back. The authors argue that a rural school system should spend their resources on the students (like Mike) who will stay in the area and contribute to the local community. It is an interesting concept and one that I think needs to be explored further. If we do not start this conversation then there will continue to be those students who simply do not thrive in our school systems.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Food Insecurity

This summer RASD is providing a "hot" lunch for all of the participants in the summer parks program.  The summer parks program meets three days a week at the three different parks in the borough.  The program is operated by teachers and aids and the students spend the day doing different crafts and other fun activities.  The program is a huge success and there can be close to 100 children participate on any given day.  This year our food service director, Rena Urmann, discovered that the school district qualified for funding from the Federal government to provide a hot lunch during the summer parks program.  The school district qualified for the program because our elementary school climbed over the threshold of 50% of our students who qualified for a free or reduced lunch.  The government will reimburse close to $3.00 a meal for every meal that we serve.  At this rate, the school district plans on serving up to 100 lunches a day that will be free to all the children.  The district will have to hire two people to cook and serve the lunches.  This cost will be reimbursed by the government. 

I am very grateful that Rena discovered this program and that the government recognizes the importance of providing food for children during the summer. Making sure the children and their families have a certain amount of "security" knowing that good, nutritious food will be served is reassuring for me.  The opportunity to provide a nutritious lunch for students during the summer is something I believe is an appropriate service for the school district.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interesting conversation

On Sunday I was purchasing tires for our vehicle when I had an interesting conversation with one of the managers of the tire store.  As he was ringing up my sale a mechanic from the garage came in and asked him a question about a car.  Without seeing the car, the manager asked two simple questions; what year is the vehicle and what sound did it make when the brakes were applied when he took it for a test run.  Based on that information, the manager was able to limit the possible problems, and offer solutions for the problems.  I was amazed.  The amount of knowledge and information in the manager's brain was spectacular.  I asked him how long he had been working as a mechanic and he told me 20 years.  He then went on to say that he wished he would have paid attention in school so he would not have to do his job.  He said that statement in such a way that it took me by surprise.  I told him that  most people who paid attention in school would not be able to diagnose a problem like he had just done.  He just kind of looked at me.

My point in telling the story is that formal schooling often just reflects what the dominant culture views as "smart" or "good".  This man has an amazing amount of knoweldge and he can apply that knowledge to unique situations.  A worthy goal for all educators.  It is too bad that all of the people out there that have all of this wonderful information feel that they are failures because schooling did not engage them.  Our goal at RASD is to try to engage all students.  This is a big goal, and we are not there yet.  However, we have an obligation to keep trying!

By the way, I am at the beach having a great time!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Preliminary PSSA Scores

I have the very raw numbers from the PSSA tests…I am very pleased. I will offer you a brief review. I have spent about four hours looking through the data today, but I need another four or five to really get a deep understanding of the data.

For a recap:  The PSSA tests are a required test under the No Child Left Behind law (all public schools must take them).  Students can score in one of four categories: Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic.  Schools must have  63% of the students   in the upper two categories in Reading, and 56% of the students in those categories in Math.  Those percentages will increase next year.

Overall, 83% of our students (students in grades 3,4,5,6,7,8, and 11) on the Math test scored advanced or proficient (an increase of 9% compared to last year). 70% of our students scored advanced and proficient in Reading (an increase of 1% compared to last year).

The largest increase in scores occurred in 11th grade.  Last year 43% of the students scored proficient or advanced on the test, while this year 75% scored that high.  In 7th grdade, 93% of the students were advanced or proficient in math...a really good number!

The staff and the students worked very hard this year to achieve these results.  I am very proud of them.  I also believe that the focus the school board has placed on student achievement and instruction has helped

Monday, June 7, 2010

RASD Graduation

The Ridgway Area School District held graduation on Friday night June 4th.  There were 59 graduates.  The ceromony went very well and lasted for just over an hour.  The graduating class will now enter the "real world".  I believe that Ridgway has done a good job preparing our graduates for the 21st Century.  Time will tell how well the school district did in this endevour.  Some vital statistics about the graduating class: 53% of the class will attend a 4 year college; 22% will attend a 2 year college; 5% will go into the military; and 20% are undecided.  The school district has some work to do to make sure the percentage of "undecided" students is not quite so high in the future.

Since it is summertime, I will only be updating the blog on Monday and Thursday.  There may be times when I update more often if there is something important to add.  Speaking of which, the school district hopes that the preliminary PSSA results will be available to the district on Thursday.  I will have those numbers for you when they arrive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grace and Responsibility

Last night a baseball pitcher for the Detroit Tigers came within one out of a “perfect game”. A perfect game is when the pitcher faces the minimum number of batters in a game. In other words, the pitcher faces 27 batters and all 27 do not reach first base for any reason. To pitch a perfect game is very difficult. As a matter of fact, there have only been 20 perfect games thrown in the history of baseball (over 100 years). There is a great honor for a pitcher to throw a perfect game and will often be the highlight of that pitchers entire career. Why am I talking about baseball and perfect games?

The pitcher last night, Armando Galarraga, was one out away from throwing a perfect game. On the last (27th) out of the game there was a close play at first base. Replays showed that the runner was out. However, the umpire called the runner safe. Thus, Galarraga lost his attempt at a perfect game through a bad call by the umpire. Galarraga got the next batter out ending the game. His teammates and manager accosted the umpire as he was leaving the field because they had seen the replays in the clubhouse that showed the batter was out. Galarraga, said nothing.

This is where I believe the story gets interesting.

In an interview after the game, Galarraga simply said “He (the umpire) probably felt more bad than me," Galarraga said. Smiling, he added, “Nobody’s perfect.” A blown call had just cost him a chance at baseball immortality. His name would be included with the greats of baseball and it was taken away from him. But he did not complain; he did not trash the umpire; he did not throw a fit; he simply responded with grace and dignity. That tells me more about the man than a baseball game. To show grace in that situation is a wonderful example for all of our children (and adults) within the school system. On the other side of the coin, the umpire responded with incredible forthrightness. After the game, once he saw the replay he immediately went and personally apologized to Galarraga and his manager. He then faced the national media and admitted his mistake; “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce told reporters in Detroit. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.” He took responsibility for the call and admitted his mistake. His reaction tells me more about the man than one bad call. By taking responsibility and admitting a mistake the umpire set an example for kids to follow. How the pitcher and the umpire handled this situation isa model for behavior that all of should follow. I hope that RASD will teach students grace and responsibility through actions by the adults in the system and not merely in a theoretical sense.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Five Year Budget Projection

The school board directors will have a final vote on the school district budget next Tuesday. I have written quite a bit about some of the outside forces that impact the school budget. You can find those here, here, and here. Today, in a very brief blog, I will discuss what the school district's budget will look like in five years if the school district keeps the status quo. The school district purchased a budget planning model so the board would be able to see how different scenarios impact the budget over the next five years. The budget planning model was provided by Education Financial Decisions. The model allows the school district to input different budget scenarios by controlling inputs in different areas of the budget. For example, the school district can input what we anticipate the insurance increase will be over a few years and then evaluate how that affects the budget. There are many areas of the budget that we can control. The problem is the areas that the school district does not control. The two biggest are the increase in the pension fund and the anticipated decrease in state funding. I am sharing with you the scenario that just keeps the district at the status quo. Keeping the status quo means not raising taxes and maintaining the present staffing level. As you can see when you open up the file, the school district will have a deficit of almost 7 million dollars if the school district does nothing different. That number reflects using the school districts entire fund balance of over 2 million dollars. Obviously, there will have to be changes in the way the school operates and how the community funds the school if RASD will stay viable. The school district will meet this financial challenge while increasing student achievement over the next five years.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chicken Tractor

I had the pleasure to listen to a band that was in Ridgway on Saturday night. The band was called Chicken Tractor and they played traditional Americana music. They were invited to Ridgway because of Ridgway’s burgeoning reputation as a place for artistic creativity. In other words, someone believes that different kinds of bands playing different kinds of music would be well received in Ridgway. I have discussed in a previous blog posts how I think Ridgway is becoming an artistic community. Being known as an artistic community is a very positive thing. Being artistic implies creating something. Whether it is a piece of art or music, when someone can start with nothing and end with something they have created that is almost magical. The creative process should be used in everything that we do every day. Practicing the creative process in the schools, or in the community at large, will benefit the schools and communities.  And besides, the band was great!

Friday, May 28, 2010

RASD Cafeteria Information

I want to discuss a “hidden gem” in our school system. Our cafeteria serves breakfast and lunch to our students that exceed the current nutritional guidelines for school breakfast/lunch. The school district has a very high participation rate for lunches with almost 85% of our students purchasing lunches from the cafeteria. Approximately 250 students buy breakfast from the cafeteria and around 850 students buy lunch every day. The cafeteria offers a wide variety of choices to our students every day including fresh fruit and vegetables. 51% of our students qualify for a free/reduced rate based on the income of their parents.

The cafeteria employs 11 employees with 6 full-time and 5 part-time. The school district gets reimbursed from the federal government for every student that qualifies for a free meal. The school district is reimbursed $2.78 for every lunch served to a student that qualifies for a free lunch and $1.56 for a breakfast. The price of a breakfast for a student is $1.00 in the high school and .90 in the elementary school while lunch is $1.60 in the high school and $1.35 in the elementary school. You will notice that the school district is reimbursed more from the Federal government than what we charge our students. There is a proposal in Congress to force all schools to charge all lunches at the reimbursement rate for a free student. If that passes, that would force the school district to increase lunch prices for all students. I am very proud of our cafeteria. The food is nutritionally sound and tastes good. There is a variety of foods for students to choose from and the cafeteria exceeds the State nutritional guidelines.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Student "Growth" this year

I want to share some data that the school district has gathered concerning student growth through the school year. There are many forms of data that a school system can use to judge how well they are doing. Benchmark assessment data is one of these forms of data. Other forms of data that a school can use are alumni surveys, student surveys, SAT scores, college admittance information, and analysis of budgetary expenses relating to student instruction. I have included a presentation that I shared with the school board last night that shows the growth that students have made according to benchmark data the school has collected. The data helps inform decisions teachers make when considering instruction and curriculum. Overall, the district has shown remarkable growth of its students. This is a reflection of the hard work of the staff, the focus the district has placed on curriculum and research-based instructional strategies, and a Board focus on student achievement. I am hopeful that this kind of benchmark data will continue to show dramatic growth over the next few years.  Although this data analysis in not too in-depth, it does show that the district's concentration on student achievement is starting to pay off.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Transformation

Today I will finish the topic of transformation in the school system. Transformation of the system means that public education will “look” fundamentally different then it does today. The basic assumptions that we hold for how students are taught should change. Deep transformation will take some time, but I will briefly explain how Ridgway Area School District will position itself to start the transformation process.

How will Ridgway Area School District start the transformation process?

1. Organizations must become more open and transparent and that includes public education. People demand to know how public institutions are operated and demand to have more input then in the past. With that in mind, the elementary school will institute a parent academy next year which will offer a space for parents to interact more informally with the school. The elementary principal, Mrs. Herzing, is also exploring “parent liaison committees” which will be another way for parents to have more input into what goes on in the school. At the high school Mrs. Vargas has started a student advisory group which has been very influential in making suggestions concerning the governance of the school. The student’s suggestions can be found in my blog on May 12th.

2. There must be a focus on student achievement. It goes without saying that a focus on student achievement is also a focus on student learning and teacher instruction. The school district has focused on instruction this year through intense training of the teaching staff on research-based instructional strategies that improve student achievement. The school district is also asking all teachers to create “benchmark assessments”. Benchmark assessments are a fancy name for creating a local test that truly measures what was taught in the classroom. Benchmark assessments are created by grade level or subject area teams of teachers working together so each student will be judged on the same criteria regardless of what teacher they may have had. In the best of all possible worlds, benchmark assessments are used to adjust instruction throughout the year. In other words, if too many students do not do well on the assessment, then the teacher will need to re-teach the concept using different instructional strategies.

3. Fostering student creativity and problem solving must be a focus for Ridgway Area School District. I hear from community members as well as teachers about the lack of problem solving capabilities of students. The school must start to adjust the way we think about being creative and solving problems. Creativity is not something that must be confined to music or art classes. All curriculum areas in all grade levels must offer opportunities for students to show their creative side. The school district shows off our music and art students’ creativity through concerts and exhibitions. The schools must now do the same for the student who finds a creative solution to a problem in math, social studies, foreign language and all curricular areas. Stanford University has a great model in their K-12 lab. The students and teachers all follow “design thinking” which centers on identifying and solving real world problems. That model would be great for Ridgway Area School District. The school district currently uses community resources to try to help students become more creative (Appalachian Arts Studio) but expanding the school’s reach into other community venues is a must.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Transformation vs. Reform

A few weeks ago I was discussing the difference between school reform and school transformation with someone from the Knowledge Works Foundation . I have thought about this difference a lot in the past few weeks and I want to share with you my ideas of school transformation and what I think it means for Ridgway Area School District. I will discuss the specifics of why I think a transformative period in public education is occurring in a later blog; this blog will be concerned about the difference between reform and transformation.

Reform has become a “tired” word in education. Books have been written explaining why reform efforts in public education have not worked. The best of these, in my opionion, is Tinkering Toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban . In the past, reforms have been created and developed in a “cookie cutter” model. Usually a well meaning researcher or organization creates programs that works well in one locality then “scale-up” the reform and offer it to the rest of the country. Oftentimes the reforms are forced on school districts through either the state or national departments of education. The result is that there is not a “buy-in” from the local school districts and the reform (no matter how viable it is) is not implemented with fidelity. The end result is a muddled process of reform that does not really change anything within the school district.

The contrast to reform that is forced on a school district is transformation of a school district created by the stakeholders of the school district. It seems obvious that if one wants a system like public education to actually change, then there must be input from the people in the local school district. A community and school district must have leadership that believes that a radical transformation can take place and then nurture the change to make sure it occurs. With transformation there is no “cookie cutter”, one size fits all solutions. Rather, there are thousands of permutations of what change can look like in the school district. I believe that all change must be focused on the question “what is in the best interest of the student”. Transformation cannot occur for the benefit of administrators, teachers or well meaning reformist. The students in the schools must be the focus of transformation. Tomorrow I will discuss transformation more deeply. I hope this blog helped delineate the difference between reform and transformation.  I hope that we are positioning Ridgway to move forward and start the process of true transformation.  Our initiatives that have been implemented will assist in this process.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Invention of Air

Today I want to talk about a book that I read over Christmas called The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson. The book is about Joseph Priestley and the origins of modern chemistry (basically, Priestley started modern chemistry). What I find fascinating about the story is the interconnectedness between what Priestley accomplished and the people he associated with and the times in which he lived. I don’t know if he would have been able to accomplish what he did if those two factors were not in play. I will blog about connections and networks on Monday and Priestley’s life story is a testament to the power of interconnectedness. One of the ideas that comes from the book is how to use “conversations with self” to allow ideas to form and change over time. Writing ideas down on paper is a great way to remember them so you can go back and change them and adjust them to new frameworks and information. We spend so little time today as a society allowing ourselves to just sit and think. We believe that we always have to be entertained or working and we do not allow our own genius to develop. Einstein “Any man that reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking”. Now, I may disagree with the reading too much part of this quote, but not using our brains enough is an interesting point. Priestley and his colleagues would meet at a coffee house (Ben Franklin was part of this group while he lived in London) and discuss topics and debate ideas. The end result was a revolution in science. This is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it. I wrote a summary of the book and framed it for rural education leaders. One last interesting note, Priestley moved to the United States and is buried in Northumberland, PA.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dr. Butler Goes to Washington

I apologize for not blogging over the last two days. I was in Washington DC and I forgot how to mobile blog. Today I want to talk about my testimony in front of the House Committee on Education and Labor. You can find the link to the testimony here. You can view the testimony by clicking on "Archived webcast". My written testimony was more detailed than my verbal testimony. Each witness only has five minutes to speak so you have to cut your official written testimony down to a five minute mark. I will have my verbal remarks for you later. I was asked to offer a small, rural school district perspective about the reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind). Please read my written testimony to better if you want to better understand my point of view. I will provide a short overview of the testimony below.

The major theme of my testimony was that collaboration and teacher professional learning is a key component to any successful school reform. I feel that Ridgway Area School District has had a long history of stakeholders working together to improve student learning. I also stressed the importance of teacher professional learning and that school districts should encourage professional learning on the part of the teachers. I believe that the school district’s teacher supervision plan is a good example of something that was created to encourage collaboration and teacher professional learning. I also recommended to the committee that broadband service is a must for rural school districts. Beyond broadband access, school districts also need the technology infrastructure within the schools to take advantage of the high quality broadband service. Broadband service begins to level the playing field for rural school districts as we can provide better learning opportunities for our students and high quality professional learning for our teachers. I will have more pictures from the trip after I download them from the camera.  The picture today was taken from my smartphone. My goal for the trip was that people in Washington would know about Ridgway Area School District and about the great community that we live in, I feel comfortable that I accomplished this task.

One final note, the hospitality and assistance that Congressman Thompson’s office gave to my family and me during the trip was impressive and appreciated. The Congressman spent time talking with me about education and the reauthorization of ESEA, but more importantly took his time and talked with my kids. He now has a new (younger) fan base! I also want to thank the staff from the Congressman’s office (Deborah Pontzer, Darrell, and Matt) for helping me through the testimony process and making sure that I only had to concentrate on my testimony.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tree Cutting and a Physics Lesson

Okay, yesterday my family (and other interested by-standers) was entertained by watching a huge red oak tree near my house being cut down. Normally, this may not seem to be such an educational lesson, but this picture will probably help you see how physics and other physical sciences came into play in this event. I was fascinated by the amount of calculation required to determine where to place the ropes to assure that when a big limb was cut, it would hang harmlessly above the ground. My wife was explaining to our children how pulleys work. One man could lower a limb that weighed over one thousand pounds and place it on the ground without leaving a mark. I encouraged my children and any other kids that were around to watch because they were witnessing a perfect physics experiment in “real life”. Other than the fact that this work is very demanding physically, one has to be sharp intellectually to do well. I am happy to report that there was no major damage to anything as a result of taking the tree down.

On another note, I will attempt to “mobile blog” again over the next two days. I am going to Washington DC to testify before the House Committee on education and Labor. I will be offering a “rural perspective” on turnaround schools and the proposed reform models from the US Department of Education. I am looking forward to the opportunity to have a voice for rural school systems across the nation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Transparency and "Beta" status

I have been thinking a lot about transparency in our educational system. I have mentioned before that I believe society (and by default the educational system) has started to change in ways that has not been seen for hundreds of years. We are on the forefront of a foundational shift in how people interact with each other, how we learn, what we do for a living, and what are relationships will be to large governmental agencies and multinational corporations. The linchpin for this change (at least for our school district) is a sense of transparency. There must be transparency at every level of the organization and transparency is a two way street. To effectively provide a quality 21st Century education for our students the administration, teachers, parents, and students must feel as if we all acting on the same information. For this reason, I will be conducting open, honest budget conversations with the staff of the school. This will allow the staff to act within the same framework of knowledge that the administration does.
Students are also an important part of this equation. The reason the school is here at all (and that w ein the system have jobs) is because of the students. They should be aware and have some say in what the educational system looks like. As a matter of fact, for our schools to thrive in the 21st century the participation by the students will be a must. This transparency goes deeper than just a public relations stunt. Transparency allows everyone to have a stake in the health of the organization and lets an organization experiment with different leadership and organizational models. This “beta” status will help Ridgway Area School District thrive as we navigate the seismic shifts in education and society at large.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


One of the school board non-negotiable goals for instruction and achievement concentrated on communication.  At the high school that goal was used to start a conversation with students about their experience in the school.  Mrs. Vargas also started the conversation with the faculty and coaches so the school district can start to become more open and transparent for everyone.  A brochure that Mrs. Vargas created highlights what was learned from these conversations and some of the actions that have been taken because of the knowledge.  I hope you learn something from the brochure and appreciate the efforts the school district is starting to undertake to allow all stakeholders to have a "voice" in their school.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Middle School Science Fair

The Ridgway Area Middle School held its annual 7th grade Science Fair on May 5, 2010. Approximately fifty science projects were on display in the middle school main hallway. The students in the photo were awarded first place ribbons by the judges. (L to R: Beth Renaud, Allie Oknefski, and KiKi Jacobs). Renaud and Oknefski received a ribbon for their project “How Scary Movies Affect Your Heart Rate and Blood Pressure.” Jacobs received a ribbon for her project “Translucent Egg.” Congratulations to all of the participants , Mr. Martino, and Ms. Glass on a successful Science Fair.

Congratulations to all participants!

Monday, May 10, 2010

School Board Meeting Tomorrow

The next meeting for the Ridgway Area School District Board of Directors is tomorrow at 6:30 in the elementary school cafeteria. Here is the tentative agenda for the meeting. The May meeting is always busy because the board votes on items for the following year. Positions such as solicitor, treasurer and substitute teachers are voted on at the meeting. I am also very pleased to let everyone know that we will be honoring some of our outstanding high school students at the meeting. Every month we honor a "student of the month" for each school, but this month we will also honor students who have won honors academically and athletically. It should be a great time.

Finally, the school district's budget will not be voted on at this meeting. The board and administration continue to work on the budget and there will be a final approval at the June Board meeting. The preliminary budget still includes a one mill tax increase to serve as an insurance policy in case the school district loses the lawsuit concerning occupational taxes that one of the board members has filed.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Yesterday our Yearbook staff (under the direction of Mrs. Buhite) had an opportunity to learn how to write from a professional sports writer. The Yearbook staff used the communication tool Skype to talk with Frank Isola from the New York Daily News. Mr. Isola covers the New York Knicks for the newspaper. The students wanted to learn tips about how they could improve their writing since they are writing so much for the yearbook. By using Skype, the students were able to hear and see Mr. Isola and they could interact with him in real time. Mrs. Buhite was very happy with what the students learned and believes that it was a very valuable educational experience for the students. The students reflected on their experience as well. It is interesting that one bit of advice that Mr. Isola gives is that the best way to improve your writing is by simply writing more. That advice makes me think about an earlier blog where I discussed how anyone can improve in anything by simply practicing. The blog talked about how it takes 10,000 hoyurs of purposeful practice to become an "expert" in something.
Good job Mrs. Buhite and the Yearbook staff!!