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!