Superintendent's Blog

Happy New Year, 2020!

Happy 2020!  Did you make any resolutions? I always do, but the funny thing about my annual goal-setting process (a.k.a resolutions) is that my new goals are often just a recalibration of the goals that I already have in place.  Here’s why: Because my resolutions take more than one year to achieve. My resolutions really look more like “healthy habits.” These healthy habits fit into a long range plan that may require several years to accomplish those established goals.  Back in 2017, I wrote a blog that considered how our school district sets goals and what steps we take to ensure that we achieve those goals.

The SOCSD Board of Education and I work collaboratively, to establish expectations for ourselves and our students that reflect the aspirations of our community and society as a whole.  Like any “resolution” it is important to have a plan to achieve goals, monitor progress, and analyze our progress. At each of our Board of Education Meetings, throughout the year, we do just that. So…Here are my New Year’s Resolutions (er…umm, goals) for the year:

Students will meet or exceed their building’s annual performance targets at all four schools (Focus Area A)

    • Target: Graduation Rates (TZHS) will improve in accordance with ESSA performance targets.
    • Target: College, Career, and Civic Readiness will improve in accordance with ESSA performance targets. Incentive participation in high-level coursework and grade-appropriate action steps.
    • Target: Academic Readiness will improve in accordance with ESSA performance targets (SOMS forecasting model).  Academic Readiness is a function of student achievement and academic progress.

Collaboratively review, revise and enhance practices that guide the district’s efforts to recruit, evaluate and retain high-quality staff members (Focus Area B)

    • Target: Collaboratively update district-wide APPR plan, implement performance reviews for probationary teachers and standardize evaluation protocols for administrative team.
    • Target: Increase clarity of certified hiring process through establishing recruitment flowchart and corresponding guidelines, while drawing upon district data to direct staff diversification.
    • Target: Conduct look back of SOCSD staff attendance data, based upon NCTQ Attendance Study (2013), as a means to determine next steps.

Increase the quality of the digital presence for SOCSD. (Focus Area C)

    • Target: Website platform review and implementation
    • Target: Student Management System/Parent Portal review and implementation
    • Target: Improved data management and analytics

All schools will achieve their student engagement targets in the areas of attendance, discipline, and overall school climate (Focus Area D)

    • Target: Chronic absenteeism will decrease in accordance with ESSA performance targets.
    • Target: The number of students with multiple discipline referrals will decrease in accordance with ESSA performance targets.
    • Target: The School District “Climate Data” will improve in accordance with ESSA performance targets.

Equity, Access, Opportunity for ALL students (Focus Area E)

    • Target: The “District Comprehensive Master Plan” will provide a systemic, diagnostic tool for strategic deployment of capital resources in order to meet the future needs of the SOCSD academic program.
    • Target: In compliance with ESSA, the District will advance educational equity in all four schools by ensuring that all students have equitable access to the highest quality educational opportunities, rigorous coursework, services, and supports in schools that effectively provide instruction to prepare all students for success in college, career, and citizenship.
    • Target: The District Comprehensive Safety Plan will provide an integrated approach to ensure the social-emotional, physical, developmental well-being, and environmental safety of all students, staff, and community members.

Merchants of Hope 2020

As the new year approaches, I would like to wish everyone in the South Orangetown Community a happy and healthy holiday season!  This past year was a period of intense growth that was the function of our commitment to building a culture of excellence. After we return from our winter recess this January, we will rededicate ourselves towards reaching every student by making them feel cared for and empowered.  In 2020, we will continue to make relationship-building our top priority because positive relationships are the currencies upon which a culture of excellence is built.

This is the season when many of our families celebrate the importance of joy, peace, hope and love.  These are not unfamiliar concepts in our school culture and I am challenging each of our employees at SOCSD to be, what Jimmy Casas refers to as “merchants of hope” for all students.  In his book, Culturize, Jimmy Casas suggests that we educators can evoke positive responses from our students and build a productive school culture by:

  1. Bringing our best to work every day, whatever our best may be that day. Be grateful that we get the opportunity to make a positive impact on a child every day!
  2. Giving two minutes of our time to one student and one staff member every day. Be intentional with our time and then follow up with a quick word or note. The small things can make all the difference.
  3. Being empathetic. Taking the time to understand, share, and be sensitive to another person’s feelings is critical in building a culture of trust.  Every student and staff member will face some sort of challenge at one time or another.
  4. Valuing the mistakes of others. Risk takers are born here. If we make a mistake, own it, apologize, and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  5. Modeling forgiveness – if we want to be effective leaders, we must be willing to sincerely accept an apology and move on. Believe that most people’s intentions are good.
  6. Understanding that we will not always see immediate results when working with kids. Be patient and think long-term. Many are just testing a system which has failed them many times over long before we came into the picture.
  7. Having high standards for all kids every day. Do not make excuses for kids based on race, socio-economic class, environment or poor parenting, etc. Believe in all kids all of the time (it also helps if you love them all of the time too!)
  8. Acknowledging inappropriate behavior of kids. By not doing so we are sending a message that they are not worth it or we have given up. If we hesitate to correct poor behavior based on their response to us, we have become part of the problem.
  9. Not being negative. Constant complaining and being negative about kids, staff, work environment, etc. without offering a solution says more about us than it does about those who we are complaining about.  Bring positive energy every day.
  10. Taking time to smile/laugh and encourage others to have fun. When it is no longer fun to go to work, it is time to do something else.

Again, here’s wishing all of our families, friends, staff, and students a joyous holiday season (filled with hope, peace, and love)…I am looking forward to seeing everyone back after the winter recess well-rested and ready to learn!

Developing Coherence at SOCSD

Strong community coherence and commitment to shared goals is a guiding principle for improving student learning outcomes at SOCSD.  A few years ago, we developed a vision statement that expresses our desire to ELEVATE, ENGAGE and INSPIRE students by building a culture of:

  • High expectations where students will possess the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for a variety of post-graduation options.
  • Healthy, productive, and supportive relationships between students, staff, families, and the community.
  • Equitable access to opportunities in order for students and staff to pursue their full potential as responsible citizens and lifelong learners.

To this end, we recently invited students, staff, families and community members to reflect upon the vision statement and share the three words or terms that represent aspirational goals which they believe should be at the heart of our school district’s mission. If you haven’t done so already, Please take a moment to read the message to the community and complete the short survey.

It is important to note that the vision statement is firmly rooted in the research of Richard Elmore’s Internal Coherence Framework.  The Coherence Framework suggests that the essential interaction between teacher, student, and content creates the basis of learning and is the first place that schools should look to improve student learning.  We used this research to develop the “ELEVATE, ENGAGE, and INSPIRE” vision which is much more than just a motto or a slogan. This vision is built upon a framework that creates the conditions for continuous improvements in our schools.  In plain English, the vision statement is an expression of our aspirations to: 

Elevate – We are promoting student readiness through our work with our Curriculum Council and Building-Level Teams (BLT).  An elevated curriculum is one that is relevant and meaningful and reflects our commitments to college and career readiness and promotes equity, opportunity, and access for all students.   

Engage – We are developing a cadre of teachers who are highly skilled at delivering engaging instruction through our efforts to recruit, evaluate and retain high-quality staff members.  Recently, our teacher leaders and administrators met to engage in the process of data inquiry. We are actively engaged in the analysis of root causes and are eager to explore further how to better engage students in the process of learning.  A special thanks to our District Coordinator of Data, Assessment and Accountability, Ms. Jeanne Corcoran for her leadership towards a more meaningful approach towards data use. 

Inspire – We are encouraging our students to become inspired to make the world a better place as a component of their learning.  There are all sorts of examples of our SOCSD students who are actively involved in serving the community through co-curricular (interscholastic sports, academic teams, music performance) and extracurricular involvement (student clubs and activities).  Most recently, we have seen the efforts of our students participating in humanitarian and not-for-profit fundraising through the Powderpuff Football Game, FIRST Robotics Competition, and the “service components” of the many honor societies at our secondary schools.  A debt of gratitude is due to our community members who generously support these student endeavors with their “time, talents, and treasures” and to our Family Engagement Center (FEC) Coordinator, Ms. A.J. Walker. 

So…where do we go from here and how can the community become further involved (if you haven’t done so already)?  Well, at its January 23 workshop, the Board of Education will continue to develop and refine its mission statement as it relates to making us more cohesive as a community of learners with an emphasis on promoting and protecting our “Instructional Core.”  To make this meeting as productive as possible, again, we need your participation and want to hear from you. Please take a moment to read the message to the community and complete the short survey at:

https://blogs.socsd.org/2016socsd/2019/12/06/board-reflects-on-climate-culture-and-mission/

Thank you again for your continued support of our schools and I look forward to sharing updates on this important work.

 

Reference:

Richard F. Elmore, School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Press, 2004)

The “Thank You Card” is in the Mail…

I am going to write a “thank you card” to someone today – not sure to whom yet, but I know this for certain:  I am going to write the card (in my own handwriting), put it in a stamped envelope, and drop it in a mailbox.  This will not be done digitally nor electronically.  At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, and possibly a hypocrite, I think that properly thanking someone is becoming a lost art.  Even still, an email or blog post that expresses a debt of gratitude is better than no “thank you” at all, but there is something special about a hand-written “thank you card” from someone who is truly grateful.  Perhaps I am feeling this way because Thanksgiving is upon us and I am excited to spend time with my family.  Beyond this, I just cannot imagine that something as important as an expression of gratitude has been trivialized as just another data point in cyberspace.  Digital data is becoming increasingly and overwhelmingly unmanageable for many of us which puts all of us at-risk for cyber-threats.  Writing a “thank you card” is, for me, a small act of self-help and may even offer some much-needed life-balance to what feels like a deluge of random electronic email data (OK…I am offering this suggestion via this digital blog post which you may be reading from our www.socsd.org website or possibly even a social media site – the irony of this is not lost on me).

Writing a note of gratitude can be very therapeutic.  Additionally, there is also a sense of intimacy, privacy and security offered by a handwritten note – it can’t be easily cc’d or cut-and-pasted to a digital distribution list.  Privacy is important – it is a right that each of us are entitled to, especially our students, their families and our staff.   This week, I attended a focus group session sponsored by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) along with several staff and our board of education member, Mrs. Christine Lee.  We offered feedback to our NYSED representatives voicing our concerns about student and staff privacy and our need to better protect personal data statewide.  In addition to making our voices heard, we were alarmed to learn that, according to the Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy, student data is at risk because:

  • Students generate a lot of data
  • Student data is profitable
  • Student data can be used for high-stakes decision-making
  • Student data is shared with the state education departments and beyond
  • Student data is vulnerable to exploitation
  • Student data can be extremely sensitive and personal
  • Student data can be repurposed
  • Student data can stay online indefinitely
  • Student ownership can be unclear
  • Student data can be used to stereotype

For better or for worse, solving the data privacy issues associated with our online personas is a little bit like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube.  Nevertheless, there are actions that we can take as a school district, and as individuals, to make life in the digital age a little more bearable.  As a school district, we are engaged in legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels to provide additional resources to protect our student data management systems from malicious attacks (such as ransomware and other data security breaches).  School districts do not have the financial capacity nor the technical expertise to engage in full-time cyber warfare against hackers and we are strongly requesting assistance from the New York State Education Department to enable additional funding, expertise, and advanced technical solutions to serious cyber threats.  We exercise great caution and care when handling student data, but given the nature of the threat, this may not be enough (as witnessed in recent attacks against school districts in various parts of the country).  Further, we are training our staff and students to not click on suspicious emails or web-based promotions that could compromise our students’/staff’s personal privacy.

On a related note, I am suggesting that we all make a more concerted effort to reconnect with each other (in the analog real-world) on Thanksgiving and every day.  While I’m not suggesting that we dispose of our mobile phones (I may just turn mine off for a day or two during the upcoming Thanksgiving recess) it may be a good opportunity to spend less time online.  To kick this off, I have attached a photo of a “Thank You Card” (see picture below).  Please feel free to print this out at home and, in your best penmanship, tell someone how grateful you are.  Happy Thanksgiving and, if you don’t get a handwritten “thank you card” from me in the near future via the U.S. Postal Service, hopefully I will get the chance to tell you in-person how much I appreciate each of you for your support of our amazing school district.

 

Happy Veterans Day 2019

“Thank you for your service,” is a phrase with which we are all familiar – especially on Veterans Day. It is a phrase that is particularly meaningful in November when we celebrate the service of our veterans along with the holiday of Thanksgiving. We help students to develop a sense of gratitude by identifying ways that they have acted with kindness toward others. Being grateful is an important character trait that we practice regularly in our schools as a way to develop social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies. These SEL competencies are:

  • Self-awareness. SEL development at SOCSD considers how we all should recognize the positive supports that we have received over the years. Our successes would not be possible if it weren’t for the direct and/or indirect assistance we have received from family, friends, and community members. We encourage students (and each other) to reflect upon the ways that we can express our gratitude for our successes and well-being. Thanking the veterans of our armed forces for their service is a great example.
  • Social awareness. Gratitude fosters social communication by helping us to understand each others’ feelings which, in turn, contributes to our understanding of the value of kindness. Through our character education programs at SOCSD, we teach students that there can be no joy without gratitude.  When we choose to do something that benefits others, we often help ourselves emotionally.
  • Relationship skills. Being grateful can strengthen our ability to influence others in a positive manner. Collaborative relationships often require us to support (or at least understand) each others’ decisions. When we demonstrate grateful behavior, others may be more willing to collaborate with us. 

During the month of November, many of us will celebrate Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving…these events are perfect opportunities that remind us to be grateful, not only on these special occasions but every day in all that we do.  

 

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