How much snow is on the ground? How much do we expect to yet receive? What is the temperature? What is the wind doing? What are the road conditions? How much time do I have yet to decide? These are just a few of the points I ponder when making the determination to close school or not.
With the recent early blast of winter I was watching a news article on KVLY trying to characterize what their Superintendent weighs when trying to make a closure determination. After watching this article I thought it would be a good topic for my blog as well.
The decision to close school or run late is never an easy decision. No matter what decision is made, unless is absolutely horrid, there are people who question the decision to close or stay open. It is just part of the territory when it comes to being a Superintendent. But, to help you understand what I do to make this decision let me share what happens on a “normal” storm event.
My morning routine begins the night before. In most instances we know bad weather is approaching. So the evening before I am listening to the weather forecast (I like http://www.wday.com/) In addition I follow a page on the National Weather Service site that is a wonderful tool. Both of these are wonderful predictors of snow and other weather events. They are not 100% but I have found they are better than the gossip on the street.
The next morning I will wake up by 5:15 to allow some time to get ready and if needed scoop off my own driveway. After that, I will head out in my mobile office, my pickup, to evaluate the actual weather and road conditions. At this time depending on snow amounts and visibility it is usually easy to decide if it will be a tough morning or not. I will drive both highway and rural roads in an area within 6-8 miles of Ellendale. It is not feasible to drive roads from Forbes to Fullerton even though some have asked, time just does not allow for it. I will tend to drive west of town as this is usually where the harshest weather takes place. While on this drive I am looking at many variables but to help you understand my thinking here are a few principles…
- Student safety is more important than getting in a day of school
- Visibility is more important than temperature
- Slick roads are less important than snow accumulation
- Cold temperatures are less important than cold and wind together
- Cold by itself will probably not cancel school
- Slick roads by themselves will probably not cancel school
- What things are happening outside of weather including morning activities, sub bus drivers on the routes, and how are the buses running
Before a final decision is made I will pull over my mobile office and communicate with several resources in the area including Charlie Russel, Dickey County 911, Dickey County Highway Dept, and area superintendents. Each of these provides me with information about what is happening outside the Ellendale area and is vital in making a sound decision. Over the course of the last 5 years this communication has improved greatly and it is a great asset to me. Lastly, I will check the ND Highway report along with a few online resources to check incoming weather conditions.
Then I have to make the decision… Think, Think, Think. So the decision is made, school is going to be late or cancelled. At that time, usually from my pickup, I will start by sending out a SchoolReach message to all parents and employees informing them of my decision. After that is done I will update the school web site with a twitter post that also goes to the district Facebook page. Lastly, I will start calling the TV and radio stations as this can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes depending on how busy they are. In the future we will probably be adding making an announcement via our school app but this is still in development.
Many of us awoke to the start of winter this morning, and with it concern about school and bus messages. All parents should automatically be on the list to receive voicemail messages via our SchoolReach calling system. However, many of you may not know about the others ways we communicate and how you can help to ensure the appropriate messages reach you each and every time.
SchoolReach – For those that do not know SR is an automated calling system that allows us to send voice, txt, and email messages to you and your family. This system is commonly used to share information on bad weather but may be used during emergencies or when we just want to remind you about an upcoming event. The SR system stores up to 5 phone numbers and your email. The first number is always the home phone you provide the school. The other 4 numbers are left up to you to manage and are commonly cell, work, or other family members.
*** The important part is that you can manage these numbers to ensure we reach you. You can manage your child’s numbers in a couple ways:
1. Login to PowerSchool Parent – At the bottom of the main page will be a SchoolReach icon. Click on it an you will be taken to a screen where you can review the numbers we have on file and also enter any desired changes. *Allow 24 hours for these changes to become active.
2. Use the SchoolReach App – This iPhone or Android app will give you the ability to replay any missed messages but it will also give you access to manage your contact numbers just as described before. If you have a smart phone this is a wonderful app to have. To get the app go to http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/parents/schoolreach/index.html to get it today.
3. You Missed It - If you simply missed the SR message you can dial 855-955-8500 to retrieve the last message sent to your phone.
Keep the Lines Open
When a SchoolReach message is sent out, the office will always take 10-20 calls from those that have not heard the message, or just missed it. I understand some just see the caller ID and call us back. However, I am asking that if you can first check one of the ways above it would help us out. It is not that we don’t like speaking to you. But, we have had times, an early dismissal for example, when we are trying to get calls out from students to their parents and we are inundated by calls just asking what the message was. Another example would be in the instance of an emergency. In these instances we need to keep our phone lines clear to call 911 or to even send out follow up messages to you. Again, please don’t think we hate hearing from you, we don’t. We just want you to understand you can obtain these messages in other ways that is convenient for you and also for us.
We thank you for your cooperation.
Parents we just learned that it is possible for students to change their grades (the appearance of their grades) within PowerSchool. This issue is arising when students access their grades online via PowerSchool but then they alter the image of the grade. What I mean is that their browser allows them to change the letter grade temporarily. Once changed your child can have you look at their screen or give you a print out that looks just like the real thing. This has not happened in Ellendale, at least that we have heard of yet, but just be on the look out. When the student logs off of the PowerSchool site their changes are not permanent and the grade reverts back to its original. However, if you are asking your child to give you a print out, they may be fixing the grade before it is printed.
My advise is double-check. Parents have access to your child’s grades in many various and efficient ways. First, you can request a PowerSchool Parent login from the school. This way you can go check on your child’s grades, homework, attendance, and much more yourself. If you dont have a login please contact your child’s principal. If you don’t like having to remember a login and password then contact us and we can set you up to receive a weekly, monthly, or even daily emails that gives you a snap shot of your child’s grades, lunch balance, and even daily announcements. If you are a fan of apps and mobile devices we can offer you the PowerSchool app for your iPhone or android. The app can be found here for the iPhone - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/powerschool-for-parents/id444983648 or for Android on Google Play at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=appinventor.ai_jbappleman.settingsTest&hl=en If none of these three ways tickle your fancy then always remember you can call or email your child’s teacher. It may be best to get it straight from the source.
In an official statement from EduTech, whom provides PowerSchool to all North Dakota Schools, they are stating…
“This does not change the student’s grade in the teacher’s grade book or
within PowerSchool. It changes the image on the screen within the browser
the student is using. The student then prints out the screen to present to
their parent or guardian. Once the student logs off or closes the window,
the screen display goes back to the correct grade, which is either the
stored or current grade within PowerSchool.”
During the last legislative session a couple changes in North Dakota law will be making a significant impact on how and when medications are dispensed in schools. The law in its simplest terms increased the training required to dispense medications, provided the opportunity for school employees to refuse to disseminate medications, and gave some liability to schools when they do provide them. After the creation of the law the ND School Boards Association took to the task of crafting new policy to guide schools on what they should and should not be doing when disseminating drugs to children. This policy totaled 8 pages and 11 forms.
At this time the policy and forms are still being reviewed by a committee of school administrators, a health care provider, an office secretary trained and responsible to provide medication to your children, and a school board member. However, I want to warn all parents to expect significant changes to how and when EPS will disseminate drugs, both prescription and OTC . Here is what I believe you can expect:
When this policy and new procedures are finalized you will surely receive more information from us. At this time I just want to let you know that significant changes are in the works that may impact your family.
In commemoration of American Education Week this upcoming week (Nov 18-22) I want to say THANK YOU to all the teachers at Ellendale School. I want to acknowledge their dedication to the children in our community and the hard work they put in each
week ensuring to provide opportunities for our children to learn and flourish. Take some time to say THANK YOU to an educator, in your life, that made a difference.
Often during these special weeks some well-meaning adults will say things like “It must be so wonderful to work with kids everyday” or “Isn’t it wonderful to have a job that is done each day at 3:30″. I want to tell you that a teachers day is wonderful but it surely does not end at 3:30. A report by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation foun
d that teachers work day averages 10 hours & 40 minutes or 53 hours per week. Teachers are not working from bell to bell as some would believe. In fact the study reports that on average teachers are spending 90 minutes a day beyond the school day mentoring, attending meetings, and working with peers. Teachers are then spending another 95 minutes per day preparing lessons, grading papers, and often corresponding with parents. Then, if that same teacher is a coach tack on 11 hours and 20 minutes per week. It is a demanding job and one that is scrutinized by many. Yet, they do it. They work each day with the vision that every student can and will learn. Thanks!
Many people in our community work hard. I grew up a member of a ranching family and the days of feeding, checking, and working cattle were long. The man that delivers fuel to my home I see at 7am and also at 7 at night. The woman at the Fireside taking my order I know is on her feet over 40 hours a week. My point is not that teachers work harder than everyone else. It is simply to say please appreciate the work they do both between the bells and after the last one of the day, it is TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK and again I say THANKS!
Starting in the spring of 2015 students across North Dakota will begin taking the new Smarter Balanced common core aligned test. This test is replacing the present ND State Assessment that has been used during much of the NCLB era. Teachers, administrators, and students have been taking sample portion of this new test in preparation of what to expect in 2015. I thought, as parents, you might enjoy the same experience. It will not only give you better understanding of what we have been saying are increased rigor requirements with the new common core standards but it may also be enlightening. It was for me.
To access the Smarter Balanced practice test go to https://sbacpt.tds.airast.org/student/ Once there sign in as a guest, which is entered for you. When you get to the “Is this you?” page just make sure to choose the grade level you wish to try out. This is in a small box at the bottom of the window. The last step will be to choose the appropriate test and you can begin.
– So take a pause from this reading to experience the test. Then pick up from this point —
So what did you think? First and foremost it is a new testing system. This test unlike in the past will be taken on the computer and also by completing hands on tasks. Unlike the past many of us grew up in the A-B-C-D bubbles are almost all gone. The test will ask your child to not only remember factual information but also apply it to solve a problem. Students are asked to not only determine the answer to a problem but in some instances explain how or why the used a certain approach. There is more writing on this test then in previous tests. Lastly, it took time. A student can surely guess and just enter any old answer. But, if they expect to perform well it will take time and effort.
So again what do you think? Please post your comments below. Share the grade and test you experienced if you comments so we all can appreciate your thoughts fully.
Some community members are starting to ask me about the possibility of an initiated measure requiring the school start date to be after Labor Day each year. I want to thank those that have asked me about this issue and I am pleased to share my thoughts with everyone via this blog.
First and foremost Ellendale School and all schools will deal with whatever decision is made. It is not going to tear the walls down or be so cataclysmic as some suggest that education will end. In fact, I can appreciate some of the views of those that want this change. They don’t compel me to vote yes but I appreciate their arguments.
In the simplest terms if we were forced to move our start date back two weeks to be after Labor Day you can simply expect the ending date to slide back a commensurate amount. To help visualize this change I have crafted a rough 2014-2015 calendar to demonstrate the actual change if it were approved. You can view this calendar at www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/labordaycalendar.pdf In this example a post Labor Day start is the most advantageous as it falls on Sept 1st, the earliest of all possible dates. When looking at the calendar there are not many significant changes in the fall aside from a tight Christmas dismissal date as compared to other years. Now, be aware in this example I am trying to craft a calendar that starts after Labor Day but concludes in late May if at all possible. This is trying to satisfy those that are not keen on going into June, if at all possible. After the new year the calendar is significantly different with very few no school days. This calendar only provides 3 good storm dates and those are all associated with the respective state tournaments that are traditionally no school days. This calendar does provide for a final day of school on Friday, May 29th but again my experience is that this would be tough to accomplish with our normal winter weather and it will probably not be appealing to families as very few breaks are in this example. Even Easter Monday is removed to accomplish a May final date.
I believe the start date is not the key issue in this debate. The key issue is local control. I am becoming less and less comfortable with federal rules. I don’t feel we have much influence in Washington DC when laws are not working in our community and when they don’t work we have little influence to change them. This is only reinforced by the 10 year adventure we have endured with NCLB. I also believe our influence in Bismarck is only marginally better. If this initiated measure were to pass we have little or no ability to change this for the near future. Local control is a power we should covet and in this instance we should not let go. A NO vote would allow local school boards to continue to make this decision each year. I guarantee, you have a better chance of reaching, speaking too, and influencing your local school board member than you will have the senator from District (you name it). If you and a majority of your local school board think a post Labor Day start is best for your district, so be it. However, if you want to start in August than you can, it is up to your LOCAL School Board.
Common Core Standards, as I have shared the past two weeks, have many positive aspects. I believe that the creation of these standards was done with good intent to provide a uniform base of exceptional education, and without a goal/standard it would be inconsistent at best. However, during the process of the creation and adoption of the common core standards legislators, congressmen, and big business have high jacked them for their own gain, in my opinion.
One of the key components of the federal “Race to the Top” program which requires adoption of common core standards, is high stakes teacher and administrator accountability. Within this accountability initiative is the use of Value Added Measures (VAM) to build a tool that can quantify teacher’s or administrator’s performance. Much of this new system is not based upon sustained professional development, or the art of teaching, but on items that can melt down into a rubric or number. Case in point, the new teacher performance system in Tennessee requires the use of student performance in the evaluation system.
Just recently I was reading a blog post by Dr. Diane Ravitch – “Why VAM is a Sham”. http://dianeravitch.net/category/teacher-evaluations/ It lays out 10 reasons VAM is a highly inaccurate and unfair way of evaluating educators. I encourage you to read her blog.
I grew up on a ranch with my father and about 400 head of exceptional Angus cattle. I know my father was an exceptional rancher and steward of his cattle. However, I want to use the harsh reality of day to day life on the ranch and try to correlate it to the classroom. First, we understood not every calf was the same. Some calves came from healthy cows, some not. Some grew quickly and were full of vigor, some not. Secondly, at some time during their first year of life these calves, in all their variety of conditions, would be rounded up and put in a lot for us to care for each and every day (this is the classroom for us). My father would strive to get every calf to put on pounds, stay healthy, and eventually be taken off to market. However, we knew the reality that not all would gain weight equally. Some would take longer and some, a very few, unfortunately would struggle. Heredity, weather, and life’s circumstances impacted these calves lives each day in direct opposition to the good work being done by the rancher. Now I am not saying kids are calves, please don’t get me wrong. But, people in this area have good common sense and I think we know that not all come to school the same, just like a calf. Not all have the same advantages or disadvantages in life. And, as I can attest, a rancher that takes the weakest calf and moves it from the WORST of the herd to the JUST BELOW AVERAGE is an outstanding producer, I will say the same for the teacher doing the same with a child. They are both moving that calf/kid ahead to a place they would not have been without their help.
However, VAM is not like that. Tennessee would say that a teacher needs to tally up the number of children in each class at given performance levels. Here is an portion of their performance (VAM) rubric for teachers….
“ Use the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced and the following scale or an alternate agreed upon scale (Percentage: Effectiveness Rating)0-19.99: 120-39.99: 240-59.99: 360-79.99: 480-100: 5″ - http://team-tn.org/assets/misc/Sample%20Calculations%20for%2015%25_12_13(4).pdf
So a teacher that may start with a large segment of their student as novice or non-proficient will be poorly scored even if they significantly move those children to partial or proficient status. My fear is the best teachers, wanting to ensure they score well on their evaluation, will desire to choose the best and brightest students right from the start. Why would they be encouraged to work with students that need their talents the most?
Then add to this performance system the idea that teacher’s performance scores will be posted for the public to review. Would you, in your job, want to be evaluated this way? There will be no way a teacher will want low performing students on the first day and take on those challenges. Some may say the best teachers should desire to take the most challenged students, I agree. But in light of this performance tool would you? I don’t think any of us live in this type of utopia. Lastly, then combine the belief that teacher salary and incentives should be also tied to these performance measure. I think you can see where this is going.
In my world today we have parents requesting teachers they feel will be a good fit for their children. If this type of evaluation process is allowed to progress we will see teachers making requests of parents and principals to have certain students placed, or not placed, in their classrooms.
I think the discussion about the new common core needs to more down to earth, or as my father used to say “where the rubber meets the road..” . I ran across a blog post today by a teacher sharing her thoughts on how to address a 3rd gr common core standard. It is standard CCSS.Math.Content.3.OA.B.5: Apply properties of operations as strategies to multiply and divide (for her) but for North Dakota the same standard is shown below.
*click on the picture to see it in full size.
So let me share with you where the rubber is meeting the road. How will teachers be asked to meet this new common core standard? Well, I think this post is an outstanding example of what we are striving to attain. Please read this wonderful blog post from Mary Beth Hertz – Common Core Standard: Third Grade Math Strategies - http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ccss-3rd-grade-math-strategies-mary-beth-hertz
What I want to draw out of her post and a focus of my thoughts today is the depth of thought. Think back to your days in school, were you asked a question of this nature? Be honest! My recollections do not recall such questions. Back in the good old days we firmly understood that 8×6=48. We also knew that 6×8=48 and if you divided 48 by 8 your answer was 6. But, I don’t recall in third grade being asked to create 10 different equations that would all equate to 48, and to do this project with a working group.
This is a wonderful example of what I mentioned last week, a focus on how to create learning tasks that require deeper complexity of thought. We are striving to turn the light of learning on in our children’s minds by asking them to use higher order thinking skills and to not simply give us 6×8=48. Please know 6×8=48 is very important but it is not the end, it is only the foundation. By asking students to complete an activity of this nature, we are not only reinforcing that 6×8=48 but we are having them create other equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to reach this outcome. Students are being asked to check and evaluate the other groups work to determine if they are correct and to find the equation that is “high-level” or the most complex. I think this is the type of learning environment we want for our children. I hope you agree.
In June of 2010 the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the Language Arts and Math standards. The standards were constructed to “define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:
“About the Standards.” Common Core State Standards Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.
Even before the common core standards were created Ellendale Public School was focusing on standards. Before the common core standards were the North Dakota Content Standards. These standards outlined very similar skills but not to the level of specificity as the common core do today. To see a side by side comparison of the new Common Core Standards and the old North Dakota Content Standards you can access http://www.dpi.state.nd.us/standard/comparison.shtm In addition EPS teachers year in and year would share concerns about students from other parts of the United States that would come our our classrooms and not be at the correct learning level. Often students from other parts of the United States were behind when compared to students that had spent their entire education at EPS. This disparity causes difficulties both for the child and the family that is moving during the years their child is in elementary or high school. With the ever increasing mobility of families it was apparent to us and obviously the National Governor’s Association that a common set of standards was a way to ensure proper and adequate education for all students regardless of what state they grew up in or moved to.
The state of North Dakota has adopted the Smarter Balanced (http://www.smarterbalanced.org/) consortium’s common core standards. Even before the state’s adoption Ellendale School and our teachers have been preparing for the additional learning complexities and rigor that are coupled with the new common core standards. We have been training administration and teachers since the spring of 2011. Much of the focus has been on how to build complexity, high order thinking, and rigor into the foundation we have been using for years. The new common core standards, in our view, are more similar than different in relation to the old content standards. The differences we are focusing on are rigor, speaking and listening, and reading informational text along with literature. You can find out more about what we feel the keys are for the common core adoption at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/CommonCore/Parent/index.html.
I do have reservations about the common core, or maybe more accurately stated, the policies put forth by the Federal and State Governments that intertwine with the common core, but I will leave that for another post.