Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“Smoke and Mirrors” from Columbia

noun plural
: something that seems good but is not real or effective and that is done especially to take attention away from something else that is embarrassing or unpleasant

School districts around the state are in financial trouble.  The state is not funding schools at the appropriate base student cost as required by the law (Education Finance Act). 

The Greenville News highlights this problem in today’s paper (click here to read).  However, you can see the “smoke and mirrors” game by simply looking at our exhibit for the FY15 budget in Oconee County (click here). 

The FY15 budget has a new finance funding line for poverty.  You can see in the exhibit (use link above or graphic below) that funding isn’t being increased.  They simply reduced the per student funding in existing programs and added that same amount for “poverty.” 

Here's the complex formula for SDOC:  $1.5 million for poverty weighting -  $1.5 million for student category funding = $0 increase in per student funding

I think this strategy fits the dictionary definition of a smoke and mirrors strategy. 
Click to enlarge

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tipping my hat...

I'm going to retiring soon, and here's the message I shared with SDOC staff this morning:

One of my favorite quotes is from baseball great Willie Stargell. He played his entire career, an impressive twenty years, with the Pittsburg Pirates. He stated, “I always said that when it was time to retire, I would know it, and I would just tip my hat to the crowds.

Well, I’ve had a few more years than Willie Stargell in my career. I’m now in my 36th “season” as an educator in South Carolina. I feel I know when it’s time to tip my hat to the crowds, and I’ve asked the School District of Oconee County Board of Trustees to honor my request to enter retirement. 

Here are two paragraphs in my letter I shared with the Board of Trustees this evening:
For more than 35 years I have had a wonderful opportunity to serve in three public school districts in our state. I count myself fortunate to be ending my career and entering retirement after serving in a great school district like that of SDOC. 

I extend my appreciation to you for giving me this opportunity and for your continued support as I endeavored to serve the youngest citizens of Oconee County. I am grateful to have worked with talented teachers, caring administrators, and dedicated support staff members during my nine year tenure as an Oconee district level administrator. I have also felt embraced and supported for the past seven years as superintendent by the community as I worked to fulfill your charge of making sure that “Education is Everybody’s Business.”
I enjoyed the last nine years of my career at the district office in SDOC; however, my favorite activity has been to be in classrooms to see teachers and students in action and to take part in many school activities. Thank you for helping me keep my roots firmly planted in our schools!

So, I’ll soon be tipping my hat to the staff of our school system on May 1. Stargell also stated, “Life is one big transition,” and I’m personally excited about this next big transition for me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

When the circus descends...

Conservative commentator and writer David Brooks had a provocative op-ed piece this weekend on the hoopla surrounding the Common Core of State Standards.  You can read it by clicking here. 

Welcome back to everyone from the break!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

SC EOC: Are SC students prepared for success in a global economy?

The SC Education Oversight Committee sent out this graphic (you can also click here) regarding SC students' readiness for a more competitive world.  Progress is being made, but we're quite a ways from the goals that have been set by this agency.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The blog will return soon!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A state of confusion…

Most states have mottos.  They’re generally in Latin, and it seems like our schools across the state of South Carolina should have as their current motto “de tumultu” because we seem to always be in a state of confusion.

Here’s an article (click here) recapping the current controversy regarding participation in statewide testing next year.  As with most “states of confusion” there seems to be conflict, and that’s what happened in both the State House and the Rutledge Building (the location of the SC Department of Education) last week. 

The SC Department of Education is planning to stop participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and consider other options for statewide assessment of public school students; however, the SC Board of Education was a bit more reluctant since no other options for assessment are currently on the table.
One of our elementary schools was to participate in field testing of the new assessment, but that was put on hold last week.
I’ll be honest.  I’m not so wedded to the idea of using Smarter Balanced assessments next year.  I vote for ACT’s Aspire based on my reading of the literature. 

Oh, well.  Let’s hope this state of confusion is soon cleared up. 

Update:  Click here for Ed Week's coverage of the debacle.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Expectations for students in the 21st Century

NPR had a great report earlier this week on two changes coming to public schools as we work hard to align college and work-ready standards with the century in which we live. 

One story describes “close” reading (click here for more information on this reading strategy).  PARCC consortia states, “Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically.”  The story highlights the strategy in a close reading lesson.

The other major change is in how assessments will be used to measure students' understanding.  Again, the story provides more detail on how the difficulty level and expectations for students will be increasing. 

Each of the stories is about 4 minutes, and well worth a listen.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thanks to all who participated in the re-accreditation process…

Well, our visitors from AdvancED have now packed up and exited the county. But, they provided the Oconee Board of Trustees with a preliminary report this afternoon before saying goodbye.  
The team of six professionals developed the report by reviewing our self-analysis and doing the following this week:
  •   Interviews and conversations with…
           -   5 Board Members
           -   47 Administrators
           -   57 Teachers and Support Staff
           -   71 Students
           -   24 Parents and Community Stakeholders
  •   62 Effective Learning Environment Observations (classroom observations of at least 20 minutes)
The group, based on our self-analysis and the interviews, conversations, and classroom visits, has recommended our continued accreditation with AdvancED as a school system committed to systemic, systematic, and sustainable improvement.
I owe my gratitude to each of our employees and community stakeholders for a job well done over the past 14 months as we’ve prepared for this step in the re-accreditation process.   
The visiting team identified five “Powerful Practices” in our school district. These are considered exceptional practices the institution has initiated or is engaged in that are making a positive difference in the system and its schools. More about these practices will be shared when the report is finalized later this summer.
The team also provided actions that we can endeavor to complete as we work to improve our school system. These include:
  • Designing a formal vertical alignment process which defines readiness and success at each level, develops system-wide common instructional and assessment terminology, and incorporates the use of exemplars of high quality work.
  • Developing frameworks for interpretation and use of data to promote differentiated instructional practices and personalized learning for all students.
  • Determining and prioritizing 21st Century learning skills that integrate technology, incorporate problem-based/real-world learning experiences, and promote global awareness of diverse cultures.
I thank everyone for helping to make our visit a success!

What happens next?
A copy of the accreditation report is due to us in 30 days.
Final review and approval must come from AdvancED in June.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Backhanded compliments (or complisults)…

I received a news release with what many would call a backhanded compliment as part of the narrative; you know, an acknowledgement that includes an insult.

I learned they’re often called complisults, and, compliments of Google, here are a few that may give you a chuckle today:

  • "You're looking great today! I really admire your combover.”
  • "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception."
  • "I'd like to leave you with one thought... but where would you put it?"
  • "I'd love to help you out, but I don't know which way you came in."
  • "I've had a wonderful time, only this wasn't it." (Groucho Marx)
  • "I remember when that suit was the pinnacle of style."
  • "He carried out every task to his entire satisfaction."
  • "He has the wisdom of youth and the energy of age."
  • "He has all of the virtues that I dislike." (Churchill)
  • "A modest person, with much to be modest about." (Churchill)
  • "He has given me a copy of his latest book. I'll waste no time reading it."
  • "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
  • "Keep talking. I always yawn when I'm interested."
  • "Of all the people I've met, you're certainly one of them."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Classroom visits by the AdvancED Team...

It’s Day 2 of the AdvancED accreditation visit in SDOC, and our guests will be visiting with several schools today.  Time is spent interviewing teachers, staff, parents and students, but most of the time is spent in the classrooms of the school.   

The visiting team will use an instrument called ELEOT or Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool.  The purpose of the classroom observation tool is to identify and document evidence of an environment that promotes student learning. 

The ELEOT instrument has seven areas or things the observer looks for as they observe students and teachers in action (click here to see the observation tool).  These areas include… 
  • Equitable learning opportunities
  • High expectations
  • Supportive classroom
  • Active learning
  • Monitoring and feedback for students
  • Well-management classroom
  • Digital learning tools for students

Folks will be visiting in each attendance area.  The team will visit Blue Ridge Elementary and Seneca High (Seneca Attendance Zone); Oakway Intermediate, Fair-Oak Elementary, and West-Oak Middle (Westminster Attendance Zone); James M. Brown (Walhalla Attendance Zone); and Tamassee-Salem Middle/High (Tamassee-Salem Attendance Zone). 

I hope the team members enjoy their visits today.