Thursday, March 31, 2011

Press Release from Yale University for Mr. Hofmann

I am very proud to present to you the press release from Yale University announcing Mr. Hofmann as a recipient for the Distinguished Music Educator.  Again, congratulations!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Worthwhile TV Program

For the past few Sunday nights I have found myself becoming reinvigorated by a television program. I know it seems odd to say that something on television can be reinvigorating, but I have found the program. The show is “Secret Millionaire” and it is shown on ABC at 8:00 on Sundays. The premise of this “reality” show is that a millionaire must live in a downtrodden neighborhood for a week living off the equivalent of one weeks pay on public assistance. To explain why there are television cameras following the person around, the secret millionaire tells people that he is part of a documentary centered on volunteerism. This cover works well because at the end of their week under cover the millionaire must find worthy organizations to give money to.

What I find invigorating about the show is not the millionaire giving away money…although that is wonderful. What really shows the goodness and kindness of people are the organizations and people that are volunteering their time, money, and resources to help people that are less fortunate than themselves. For example, in last night’s program, a small shopkeeper from Los Angeles gathers used clothes, sleeping bags and gives them to homeless people along with a hygiene kit that he makes. He literally fills a van with clothes and other items and passes them out to those in need on a sidewalk. What a great example of the shining light of the human spirit.

What does this mean for RASD? I believe that our curriculum must include more than just intellectual exercises. We must offer student’s experiences that allow them to give something of themselves while at the same time exploring the world to find goodness in human nature. I am very pleased that the school district requires volunteer hours for all high school students because I hear stories of students being positively changed by their volunteer experiences. The district must expand these efforts for our students. We do not have to send our students half way across the nation to find these experiences. There is enough to do in our local community that will help students experience the goodness of human nature.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"You Can't Make This Stuff Up..."

Mr. Reichard and Mr. Miklos
 Ridgway Area School District will be losing an informal institution due to the retirement of two friends in the Middle School. Mr. Miklos and Mr. Reichard have been teaching special education together for over 30 years with the last 16 in the Middle School. Combined, Mr. Miklos and Mr. Reichard have served the students at Ridgway for 75 years. They have been working across the hall from each other in the middle school for the last 16 years. I had an opportunity to sit down with them to ask them about their careers at Ridgway.

Mr. Miklos has been teaching in Ridgway for 38 years. He started at the Walnut Street school for a short while before moving into the “new” middle school. For the first 28 years Mr. Miklos worked for the Intermediate Unit and was assigned to Ridgway. When the school district took over the special education responsibilities ten years ago he officially became a Ridgway employee. A California (Pa) University graduate, Mr. Miklos grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania and was a substitute teacher in Pittsburgh for a short while before moving to Ridgway. When he first came to Ridgway he was teaching elementary students, “I was used to substituting in Pittsburgh school district at the high school level and when I came here I had all of these little children and I was afraid I was going to lose one of them!” The transition from an urban area to a rural area was made easier by the people he met here, “I have met a lot of nice people in this area. Everyone has been real nice”.

Mr. Reichard grew up in Milton, Pa and received his special education degree from Lock Haven University. Mr. Reichard taught for one year in Bradford and two years in St. Marys before moving permanently to Ridgway. He too worked for the Intermediate Unit until 10 years ago. He developed and taught the emotional support class in Ridgway for ten years. Mr. Reichard has also been the school district’s point person for our GED program and our incarcerated youth instructor for many years. Of his experiences in his 37 years as a teacher Mr. Reichard says “You can’t make this stuff up!”

The school district will feel a significant loss when Mr. Miklos and Mr. Reichard retire. Their presence at the end of the hall always brightened up the school. They were always ready with a story or a laugh. For example, Mr. Miklos told me, “Do you know I have eaten lunch with Mr. Reichard more than my wife?” I guess that happens when you work so closely with someone over that many years! Mr. Miklos and Mr. Reichard come from a generation of teachers that were passionate about their jobs. The caring and passion for students is still evident in the way these two do business every day. I have an incredible amount of respect for all educators that have spent their career serving the students, but I feel a special admiration for Irv and Al because of the professionalism and passion that they still show for their children. I wish you both a happy retirement…you have earned it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times Continued....

How must education change and what are the opportunities for these changes? I believe there are three areas where education organization must address or risk becoming outdated.

1. Communication. We must come to the realization that communication between people and organizations has fundamentally changed. Instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and many other platforms exist that allow a rich dialogue to develop between people. The communication that these platforms provide is not the “end”; rather, they are a means to an end. The “end” is easier access to information for everyone. Information can come from websites, blogs, or interaction with experts from around the world. The ramification for education is simple. First, teach students to be smart consumers of information. Second, incorporate these information gathering strategies into every class.

2. Transparency. All organizations, but especially public organizations, must have transparency in the way in which they conduct their business. Public school districts no longer have the luxury to say “just trust us” because there is a perception of mistrust in the public. I believe this perception is false and that the vast majority of public school districts operate under the strictest moral and ethical guidelines. However, in an effort to show everyone that school districts do operate under high ethical standards, then transparency is a must. Oftentimes community members will get upset about decisions the district makes because they are not aware of the information that was considered in making the decision. Other times, there are misconceptions about the information itself. The best way to combat this situation is to be as transparent as the law and confidentiality allows.

3. Flexible Organizations. In today’s fast paced world, organizations must respond to threats and opportunities in a quick, efficient manner. Bureaucracy often prevents organizations from responding efficiently. An entrenched, inflexible bureaucracy is the hallmark of an organization that is dying on the vine. An example for many organizations is the standing committee structure. Although there is a need for some standing committees, there is a tendency to try to “fit” a decision into a one of these committees when it may not belong there. The better way to respond is to have systems within the organizations that allow for efficient use of decision making resources. For example, at RASD the school board has moved away from some of their standing committees and has formed more ad hoc committees that address specific issues. These ad hoc committees are very specific in scope and time and can make good decisions in less time than a general committee.

Monday, March 21, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times...

Yes indeed, we are living the age old curse in the education world. The highlights of what makes this time “interesting” are overwhelming in a lot of respects. Perhaps the most overwhelming highlight for public education is the increased “business model” of education reform. These reform ideas (i.e. increased accountability, attempting to calculate “return on investment” in education) lead to an increased skepticism of education institutions and the important work they do. Skepticism of the intensity currently propagated makes it difficult for educational institutions to defend themselves and continue the morally important work required of all of us. Yes, interesting times.

I see a problem and an opportunity resulting from living in these interesting times. The problem is obvious…less financial, political and community support for the work that we do. But why is there less support for education? Is it possible that the ground has moved beneath our feet and we in education have not recognized the movement yet while our communities have made this recognition? Are we holding onto the past in a last gasp effort to keep everything the status quo? These are the types of questions that can (and do) keep me up at night. Without a doubt, there are thousands of educators across the country who are doing marvelous things for the kids in their communities. Overall, our field is filled with people that are truly dedicated to helping students learn; but what if we are working in a system that is outdated and needs to adjust to a new reality. I think society is in a historic, transformation stage and education must seize this opportunity to change. The alternative is to disappear. Tomorrow I will discuss how public schools can adapt to a new reality.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PSSA Testing has Started in the School District

The annual rite of Spring is underway in the school district. Over the next four weeks students will take PSSA tests in Reading, Math, Science and Writing. These tests are meant to reflect what students have learned during this school year. The tests also serve as a basis for accountability measures as laid out in the No Child Left Behind law. Only two of the tests actually “count” toward these accountability measures, Math and Reading. However, the other tests allow the school to compare how our students perform versus other schools in the area. The tests results usually come back to the school district in a “rough draft” form in early June. This allows the school districts to review the data and find any mistakes that may have occurred in the processing of the tests. The public presentation of the tests scores are released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in August. RASD has made many improvements in instruction and curriculum during the past few years and we are confident that our students will continue to do well on any test that is given them. After all, good instruction from a good curriculum will allow students to perform well on any test given to them.

Finally, I want to make sure that RASD is known for more than just test scores. The PSSA tests are important because they form the basis for what the school is publically judged so we cannot ignore them. However, a well rounded education for all of our students involves more than just test scores. In the coming month I will form a committee that will discuss alternative ways for the school district to measure success. Yes, tests are one way to measure success, but we need to develop other measures of success that truly reflect an outstanding education. As our school district starts on the road toward becoming the best school district in the State, the community and district must make sure that there are other measures of success for which to judge the school district.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Great Honor for Mr. Hofmann

I would like to share some great news about our band director, Mr. Hofmann.  Mr. Hofmann has been selected to receive the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award. Last Fall I nominated Shawn to receive this award and attend the music symposium at Yale University this summer. The symposium was looking for music instructors that use guest conductors to help their students and teachers that teach in different schools. Mr. Hofmann was also required to submit a resume and complete an application. This is a real honor. Mr. Hofmann will also attend ththe symposium at no cost to the district because of the award. I am so excited for Mr. Hofmann, our kids and the school. Our district is well on our way to becoming the best school district in the State!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Governor's Proposed Education Budget

The proposed Governor’s budget is a shock to the education community. Funding for public education is not a top priority ( to say the least). Ridgway Area School District is being affected by the resulting lower amount of State aid that is available to the school districts. I will discuss some of the bleak numbers in this blog post, but I will also discuss areas of opportunities that I believe are available to our schools and community.

The school district has been preparing for the day when less money is available for two years. We have watched the State funding for education being supported by Federal stimulus money for the last two budget cycles. Knowing that the federal money was going to go away in two years, we started to prepare for lower State funding in the 2011-2012 school year. As I have mentioned before, the school district has offered an early retirement option for all employees. 10% of our employees took advantage of the incentive with a resulting savings of over 2 million dollars over five years. The preliminary budget for the school district that was passed in January also assumed State Basic Education Funding (BEF) at the 2008-2009 school year. In addition, the budget also included $331,000.00 in budget cuts (2.1% from previous year). In other words, this was a very conservative budget that did not include any “frills”. We were also not under any delusions that the type of funding that education enjoyed in the previous years was going to continue.

Having said all of that, the Governor’s proposed budget cut a little deeper than we anticipated. State funding for education is at the 2007-2008 funding levels (not the 2008-09 level the school district budgeted). The proposal also eliminates various grants and other programs that the school district included in the preliminary budget. The addition of these new cuts created an additional $345,000 that needs to be cut from the budget. The School Board and the administration will work to make these further cuts. When you add the total that was already cut, with the total that must be cut further, then the school district's budget is $676,000 less than in the previous year (a 5% decrease). I am not panicked about these numbers. Cutting more is going to force the school district to make some uncomfortable decisions, but they will not be devastating cuts. There are other school districts and government entities that are worse off than we are. We will strive to keep the public informed of these decisions. Again, the school district is in better shape than most because of the fiscal constraint that the district has operated under for the past 20 years or so. The district also has no debt which allows flexibility in financial matters.

But all is not gloom in the school district. I am so confident in the ability of our school district to thrive in the upcoming years. We have laid a solid foundation that will serve as a starting point for great opportunities for our students. I see no reason that RASD cannot become one of the top 10 school districts in the State (if not the best school district in the State). As results from our recent school district celebration attest, our students have the resources and support needed to accomplish whatever their post secondary goals may include. The school district will have to become more focused over the next few years as support for public education at the state policy level dwindles. However, a continued, laser focus on our core mission will lead the school district to become an elite school district within the next four years. Please join us with your support and encouragement as we continue down the path toward become the best!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Children Living in Poverty

60 Minutes ran a disturbing story last night about children in poverty. Nationwide, 20% of children live in poverty (14,657,000 children). To be considered living in “poverty” a family of four must be making less than $22,000 a year. So let’s think about this. In the United States of America, arguably the most prosperous nation that has ever existed, we allow 20% (over 14 million) of our children to live in poverty. I think it is even more instructive to look at different levels of poverty, after all, $22,000 for a family of four is a very low threshold. If we were to look at families that make 150% of the poverty level ($32,000 a year for a family of four) then a staggering 31% of children are living in poverty (23 million). 

In Pennsylvania, 8% of children live in extreme poverty (extreme poverty is anyone that lives within 50% of the poverty line [household income of $10,800 for a family of two] and in the United States 9% of children live in extreme poverty) 17% live at or below the poverty line, and about 27% live between the poverty limit and 150% of the poverty limit. In Elk County, 12% of our children live below the poverty line while 25% live between the poverty line and 150% of the poverty line. In Pennsylvania the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour which comes out to just over $15,000 a year in earnings. If a couple with two children were working two minimum wage jobs, their combined income would still have them considered "poverty" because they make less than 150% of the poverty limit.

In our school district we aim to provide education and opportunities that will help all children (including those living in poverty) a chance to move ahead in society.  This is a daunting task but one that schools must undertake.

Friday, March 4, 2011

High School Award

Tuesday night at the free senior citizen supper, Larry Persing from Senator Scarnati's office presented a "Keystone Award" to the high school. Mr. Persing presented the award to students who were helping at the senior citizen supper.  The Keystone Award is given to high schools in Pennsylvania who have met "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for two or more years.  AYP is determined by meeting the requirements set forth in "No Child Left Behind".  Along with the Keystone Award the high school has also been recognized by "school" as the 6th most improved high school in Pennsylvania last year based on test scores.  The improvement places the high school 116 of over 600 high schools in the State.  Great job to the students and staff at the high school!  The senior supper and presentation were part of the RASD Celebration which is wrapping up this week.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Freshman Podcast

I want to share with you a "podcast" created by two of our freshman.  A podcast is a recording that is saved in digital format.  This particular podcast was created as part of the Microsoft Word/PowerPoint class.  The topic is "The difference between 8th grade and 9th grade".  I think you will find it interesting.  The students, Jenni Thomas and Taylor Ross, did a fabulous job.  Please be patient as it may take a little while for the audio file to load.