Monday, February 28, 2011

Second Grade Student-Made Videos

I have included two examples of student-made videos here and here.  These videos were created by second grade students with the help of Mrs. Buhite's high school "21st Century Skills" class.  Every student had a chance to create a video and the theme was penguins.  After the videos were made, all of the second grade watched them on the "big screen" in the high school auditorium.  This was a great project and I would like to congratulate all of the second grade students and teachers and Mrs. Buhite and her class on a GREAT JOB!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pep Rally at FSG

Rep. Gabler presents awards to FSG students

Today a Pep Rally was held at FSG to help the students get excited about taking the PSSA tests.  Representative Matt Gabler was the featured speaker for the day.  Rep. Gabler encouraged the kids to do their best on the upcoming state tests and also led the entire school in cheers! Mr. Gabler also presented some FSG students with “Keystone Award”.  The Keystone Award is given to schools in the state that have met adequate yearly progress for two years in a row.  Rep. Gabler also had the opportunity to present the students with a “Title I” award recognizing FSG as one of the best Title I elementary schools in the State.  The school board and administration want to thank Matt for coming to our school and being such a good sport.
The pep rally was a part of the "RASD Celebration" that is happening over the next two weeks.
The FSG pep rally cheerleaders perform

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Parent in the School Day" at FSG

Mrs. Herzing and Mrs. Daghir welcoming parents
 Today was "Parent in the School Day" at FSG.  Today's celebration is part of the RASD Celebration occurring throughout the school district over the next two weeks.  Today over 100 parents had the opportunity to spend some time with their children in their classrooms.  Parents signed up to come in the morning or afternoon and spend up to an hour and half with their children.  The school district is excited to have parents and community involved in the school.  We are thrilled about all of the great things that happen in the school district and we are always happy to share these experiences.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Visit From Congressman Thompson

Today a group of students from the high school met with Congressman Thompson and discussed agriculture policy with him. The idea of meeting with the Congressman started in December when a group of students watched the movie Food Inc. The movie is an expose about how the food that Americans consumes is produced and the companies that control the production. The goal of this project is to get students involved in the democratic process and learn how to attempt to change the world in which they live. Immediately after the movie, students were debriefed in small groups and given a chance to discuss what they had just watched. Following the movie, a second meeting was arranged for the students to meet with local farmers and discuss how farmers on a “small scale” produce their commodities. Last week the students met with four local farmers and asked them questions about small-scale food production. Since the students have raised many questions about how the Federal government can impact food production, Congressman Thompson was invited to talk to the group. The Congressman graciously accepted.

The Congressman began by giving the students an overview of his work on the Agricultural Committee in the House of Representatives. He discussed the process involved in learning about farm policy and some of the bigger issues facing the government as it relates to farm policy. The Congressman then took questions from the students. The “Q&A” was a great opportunity for the students to interact with someone that will help shape agricultural policy. Finally, the Congressman encouraged the students to become involved in our great democracy. He offered specific suggestions on how students can (and should) become involved in letting their politicians know their view on different subjects.

Today’s event is part of the “RASD Celebration” that is occurring over the next two weeks. The school district thanks the Congressman for coming to the school to talk with the students. I would also like to thank the adults in the school that have been instrumental in providing this opportunity for our students. Rena Urmann, Mrs. Vargas, Ms. Schaut and Amy Goode have spearheaded this project and have done a wonderful job. Great job!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Awards and Honors in the School District

As the school district enters into "RASD Celebration" I thought you might be interested in some of the awards that our high school students have won in the last few days.  (This is a copy from the high school web site)

Congratulations to Logan Feronti for placing at District Chorus and moving on to Regional Chorus in Blairsville, where she will compete for a position in the State Chorus Competition! Way to sing it Logan!

Congratulations to Danielle Carlson who earned 1st Chair for percussion in last weeks District Band competition. Way to "beat" out your competition Danielle! Good Luck at Regionals in March!
Congratulations to the Ridgway High School Mock Trial Team and their advisors, Mrs. Viglione and Mrs. Cortina. RHS's prosecution and defense team both took first place at Friday's District Competition! Way to go RHS Mock Trial!

Members of the Mock Trial Team include: Katie Oknefski, Jenni Thomas, Bryanna Harvey, Katie Fields, Claire Grazioli, Sam Kovalyak, Ellie Woodford, Mike Knarr, Sarah McClain, Kaitlin Johnson, Ben Thompson and Veronica Colson.

The wrestling team won the District IX team championships two weeks ago.  Great job!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repurposing in Education

I have written recently about how the state of Pennsylvania will be 1 billion dollars short in education funding in the upcoming school year. The ramifications of this shortfall are immense, but today I am not going to dwell on all of the possible negatives; today I want to discuss the possibilities that will open up in school districts across the State. Granted, the changes in schools that will result in a lack of funding will be extremely difficult to contemplate but our duty as educators and taxpayers is to move forward and continue to make sure that our children are receiving the best education possible. Today I will discuss repurposing in education.

Repurposing (according to Howard Bloom) is a word to describe the “radical change in the use of something”. For example, using a dictionary as a doorstop is a radical change from the original intended use of a dictionary. I believe that public education organizations will have to use repurposing in their relationship with the funds they receive from the State. Currently, the relationship (or purpose) of the money is to provide much the same education as has been in existence for close to 100 years. Academic programs “A,B, and C” are continued along with extracurricular programs “X,Y, and Z”. Over the years there have been minor changes and adjustments to the academic and extracurricular offerings, but there has never been a seismic jolt to this system. After all, the State provides money for “A, B, C and X, Y, Z”. In other words, the purpose of the money from the State is to keep the status quo and not change too much. I propose that public schools repurpose their relationship with State funds and view the money as a transformational tool. In Pennsylvania, the basic funding a school district receives from the State is called the “basic education funding” (which accounts for about 56% of funding for RASD). A repurposing look at school funding would call this “basic transformational education funding”. Let’s look at funding and all decisions that schools make as a chance to change the way schools provide education; where schools will provide education; to what purpose are they providing education; and how will the school organization change to meet these new needs. In a nutshell, this is the repurposing of school’s relationship with education funding.

At RASD the process of repurposing has started. Repurposing is grounded in the non-negotiable goals for student’s achievement and instruction set by the School Board one year ago. The school district has started to address the what, how, and where of education for the students of Ridgway. The Ridgway Virtual Academy is an example of how the school district will transform how students will be able to access the school district’s curriculum. The school district is also adjusting the curriculum and instruction to match the skills that students will need to become effective citizens in the 21st Century. Although I am worried about the ramifications of the 1 billion dollar shortfall in educational funding, I believe that our duty as educators is to attempt to change the framework from one of “deficit” into one of “surplus”.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Literacy Training

Today I want to discuss literacy. When I use the word “literacy” I mean the ability to read and to understand what you read. Every school district must assure that its students can read well and understand what they have read. Reading is a “gatekeeper” skill that affects every curricular area “life skill” of students. Literacy curriculum and instruction can be conceptualized in the following framework.

In K-3, schools must make sure that students have the foundation to be able to read. Foundational skills include letter and word recognition and lots of practice reading in the curriculum. At RASD, teachers at this level make sure that students are receiving rigorous reading instruction, but that the students are also receiving all of the help they need if they are struggling. Teacher teams pour over data to identify students that may need help and then design interventions that will assist the students in improving their reading skill.

In grades 4-8 (now that a solid foundation is in place) students must have the ability to “immerse themselves in the text” and be able to interpret text. In other words, they need to be able to understand what the text is saying at a deeper level. The students must also start to develop critical thinking skills at this time. School districts must make sure that children are “thinking for themselves” and not looking for the answers to problems that they think the adults in the room want them to say. I believe that schools must encourage writing at this level because putting words and ideas to paper is one skill that can help students become better critical thinkers. The RASD middle school is starting to make sure that all curricular areas are focusing on reading and understanding text.

In Grades 9-12 students must deepen their critical thinking ability and start to have action based on what they read. If society wants the United States to become a vibrant democracy then citizens must have the ability to read, reflect and act. At the very least, society should not want citizens to become easily hoodwinked by multi-national marketing ploys or government. This is an ideal framework that I hope will help you understand literacy training better.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What does a Billion Dollars Buy? Pennsylvania School Districts Will Soon Find Out

The Harrisburg Patriot-News has an article that all parents and community members of the Ridgway Area School District should read. The Corbett administration is telling school districts that there will be a 1 billion dollar “hole” in education funding for the next school year. Yes folks, that a billion with a capital B! In other words, the money that the Commonwealth gives the school districts as part of the “basic education funding” will be 1 billion dollars less. The ramifications for education across the state, and in Elk County, are enormous. Basically, the Commonwealth will be funding school districts at the 2006-2007 school year level. The reason for the enormous shortfall is explained in detail in the article, but can be summed up easily.

1. The Commonwealth has been using “stimulus” funds for the past two years to supplant State aid in education funding. That stimulus funding is now gone and is not being replaced.

2. The mismanagement of the pension fund by the State government is now impacting the school districts with school district contributions to the fund increasing from approximately 5% to over 20% in the upcoming years. For my blog about the pension “crisis”, please follow this link.

3. State revenues are down because of the poor economy. (As an aside, it is repugnant to me that the current lawmakers in Harrisburg will not consider a tax on natural gas extraction but would rather cut services to citizens of the State. Oh by the way, Pennsylvania is the only state without an extraction tax.)

The school district has been preparing for the day when the stimulus funds “go away”. What does this mean for RASD? The numbers are interesting. The school district gets about 56% of its total budget from the State. Our budget for the current year included $5,176,702 of basic education funding. The basic education funding for 2006-2007 was $4,599,000 and that is what we are being told to expect for the upcoming budget year. That difference, my friends, is large. The district has prepared for this day in the following ways:

1. The district has no debt service and is not planning any building projects in the future.

2. The district has been using a 5 year budget projection model to guide financial decisions for the past two budget cycles. By following the budget projections, the school district has

a. Reduced teaching staff by five positions in the last year.

b. Offered an early retirement incentive that is saving the school district over 2.2 million dollars over the course of five years.

3. The school district budget is 4% smaller than it was two years ago.

4. The school district has reduced spending across all levels of the budget including professional development, supplies, and many other areas.

What does the future hold? “Sacred cows” will have to be on the table for consideration during budget talks. Although Ridgway is not to this level of concern yet, many school districts in Pennsylvania will be forced to consider the following items or they will not be able to stay open. These items include:

1. Class size policies limiting the number of children in the classroom will have to be reconsidered

2. The role of athletics in the school system (“pay to play” or deleting them all together).

3. Art, music, technology or any other class work that is not required for graduation must be looked at.

4. Limit or eliminate all A.P. classes

5. Library services reconsidered

6. World language offerings reconsidered

7. Transportation requirements reconsidered

Again, RASD is NOT to this level of concern yet, but rest assured, there will be school districts in Pennsylvania forced into these types of decisions in the upcoming months. Ridgway Area School District is not in debt and has been planning for this event for two years which puts us in a better situation than most schools in the State. RASD and the school Board never believed that there would be some magical "fix" for the funding crisis after the stimulus money was gone. So the district is in better shape then most. However, the school district is heading into some uncharted territory over the next few years. The political climate in Harrisburg is one that is not sympathetic toward helping public service organizations (large multi-national corporations are another matter). I am confident that RASD will weather the storm, but I anticipate that our educational program will look considerably different at “the other end” of this trying period.

Friday, February 4, 2011

RASD Celebration

The Ridgway Area School District will have a district celebration during the weeks of February 21st and 28th. The celebration is an opportunity for the school district to share with the community all of the positive programs and initiatives that are taking place in the school district. RASD has always had a focus on students and “what is best for the children”. This focus has been the driving force behind the school district’s new mission statement (RASD: Where students will discover their purpose for today and their passion for tomorrow) and the school board’s five year non-negotiable goals for instruction and achievement. The celebration involves various events welcoming the community into the schools. So far the following events are planned:

1. February 22nd Congressman Thompson will meet with a group of 60 high school students who have questions about his work on the agricultural committee

2. February 24th representative Gabler will be at the elementary school to present students with the “Keystone” award for making “Adequate Yearly Progress” for two years in a row. (AYP is based on the requirements of No Child Left Behind) Representative Gabler will then spend some time talking to the students about doing well in school. The public is invited to this event. Please check out the elementary web site for specific details pertaining to the event.

3. February 28th will be a school board reception. Individual school board members will invite people for a private tour of the schools and enjoy a light lunch.

4. March 1st (my favorite) the school district will sponsor a free senior citizen dinner at the high school cafeteria from 4-6:30. Students will wait on tables and the senior citizens will have an opportunity to ask teachers, administrators and students questions about the schools. Immediately following the dinner the school board will conduct their March workshop meeting in the high school library.

There are more events that will take place at the schools so please check out the school web sites for information about those events! I am very excited about the prospect of showing off our school district. RASD is focused on providing the education our children need to thrive in the 21st century!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teacher Evaluations and Camera Use

I read with some interest a proposal by some Wyoming lawmakers to place cameras in classrooms as a way to evaluate teachers. Sponsors of the Bill believe that it will make it easier to evaluate teachers in this fashion (a principal can just watch some tapes) and will lead to better teaching. Although I have some grave concerns about this proposal on privacy grounds, I have a greater concern because of what it says about how teachers are currently evaluated in Wyoming. According to the article, teachers in Wyoming are only observed by their principal or supervisor once a year. If this is true, then this is a big problem. However, the problem does not need to be fixed by expensive cameras in the classroom and “Big Brother” watching over a classroom. The solution is deceptively simple: have principals observe teachers more often. I will explain RASD’s evaluation plan which will help you understand a good teacher evaluation system. This system is based on the work of Charlotte Danielson.

In RASD, the teacher evaluation plan is called the “Differentiated Supervision Plan”. The goal of the supervision plan is give teachers the resources and professional development they need to improve student achievement. This is accomplished in the evaluation system by having three “tiers” of teachers. The first tier is called the “Differentiated Professional Development”. This tier is only for teachers who are excellent at their craft. The teacher and principal meet at the beginning of the year to set goals for the upcoming year. The teacher is the most important person in this scenario since they know what they need to work on to become better and their goals will reflect action steps and resources needed to reach the goals. The district’s job is to provide a culture where the teachers can access the resources to improve in areas they identify. In this tier, teachers are informally observed twice a year. There are three meetings (at the start of the year, the mid-point of the year, and the end of the year) to review and update progress on the goals. There are rubrics and self assessments used throughout this process and you can access them in the plan.

The next tier is called the “General” level. In this level teachers are observed twice a year and they are working toward goals that are set at the start of the year. This is a more traditional evaluation tool as it requires two observations and pre and post observation meetings between the principal and teacher. At RASD, every teacher “cycles” through this level at least once a year. This level is also meant for teachers that may have had difficulty in the top tier, or have improved from the bottom tier.

The last tier is called “Structured”. This tier has two parts to it. The first is meant for new teacher and the second is meant for “at-risk” teachers. I will not go into too much detail about this plan but I will highlight a few things. First, everyone in this tier is observed four times a year. The observations are meant to monitor progress toward goals set at the beginning of the school year with the principal. There are numerous pre and post observation meetings and use of rubrics all meant to closely monitor the teacher. The purpose of this tier is to make sure that new teachers have the ability to perform well and that at-risk teachers have the resources they need to improve. There is a very detailed procedure for at-risk teachers that involve committees and improvement plans crafted with the teacher and the principal. If these plans are not followed then the teacher is will not work for the school district. I cannot stress enough how important it is that the school district administration realize that it is the duty of the school district to help teachers improve. Once the district has provided the training and resources that the teacher has identified as necessary to improve, and they do not improve, then the duty now shifts to the teacher’s union to help the district weed these poor teachers out of the system.

As you can see the goal of the evaluation system at RASD is to help teachers reach goals and improve. Even our best teachers know that they can always improve in some area. Instead of putting cameras in the classroom, put principals in the classrooms, they should be there anyway.