A couple weeks ago I published an opinion editorial in the Aberdeen News, concerning low teacher wages in South Dakota, that has been garnering a great deal of attention. Subsequently, I have received many emails and comments from teachers and community members from my home state of South Dakota. Some of their responses have been critical stating, in a nutshell, low wages are just the reality of teaching, teach or don’t teach. None the less the vast majority of responses have been supportive of teachers and frustrated by the apparent lack of support for educators and education.
Every teacher in South Dakota or North Dakota, where I work now, comes to their classroom striving to help the precious children within it, each and every day. They may have decided to become a teacher because of some important teacher in their past. They attended four or more years of higher education preparing for the challenges that await them in the classroom. Then they come to their classrooms each and every day because they care about kids, your kids. Their commitment is not a concern.
My concern is this, what is the lack of political and fiscal support for education in SD doing to your kids? Are we naive enough to think that teachers, just because they love kids, should work in a profession that is not respected, compensated, or supported? Every profession is hopefully filled with people that love their jobs. But, let’s be real. The reality of being a parent, raising a family, providing for your home is not without concern and the wage we pay those working in our classrooms matter. The recent piece done by KELOland identified this perfectly. Sixty percent of juniors and seniors at SDSU in elementary and secondary teaching said they were leaving. They are leaving your state, your schools, your classrooms, and your kids. Why are they leaving, let’s be honest, it is in part due to pay. If you are a teacher in any SD town would you move if you could earn an additional $5,000 in North Dakota, Minnesota, or Iowa? I think your teachers will. I think your teachers are moving already.
In the end what is left over? It is not money. What you have are fewer dedicated professionals trying to do more with less. You have schools that are putting kids in front of computer screens instead of warm blooded teachers. You have hundreds of vacancies that will be unfilled in August leaving your kids in classrooms with no trained professionals to help them. Is this what you want for our kids? This argument ends unfortunately much like that critical comment I shared earlier “teach or don’t teach”. However, let me edit it slightly. For those in or new to the profession of teaching the question is “teach here or teach somewhere else”. South Dakota can your kids handle the repercussions of hundreds of teachers making that choice? I would argue they cannot. So parents, teachers, school administrators contact someone that can begin to fix this problem, before it is too late.
When the International rankings for student proficiency in reading or math are released do we not all take pause and believe that the U.S. can do better? Very few people are satisfied with 36th place in combined math, reading, and science. Then how can my home state, South Dakota, appear to be freely accepting of 50th when it comes to teacher salary?
I grew up in South Dakota and let nothing I share here today deter from the exceptional work those teachers did with me from kindergarten to my high school graduation. In my small rural school of Gann Valley Elementary to Wessington Springs High School my teachers cared for me and worked hard to get this unwilling student to learn. I had great teachers and they were not the lowest paid in the nation. They were respected by member of the community, were given autonomy, and received a fair wage.
Now looking back to the mid 1980’s what has happened? Neighbors of South Dakota have continued to make education a priority increasing support not only to teacher pay but the actual costs of education. What has South Dakota done? I know that teachers in the classroom believe more can be done to finance education. I know that South Dakota has good teachers. But, can you keep the great ones in a climate where teacher pay is 50th in the nation? I know Superintendents and school leaders see the problem because they and the ASBSD worked last summer to complete a survey and study on teacher shortage. The results of that survey were shocking reporting 258 unfilled teaching positions state wide. As published by the ASBSD Baltic Superintendent Bob Sittig stated, “We are at a crisis stage”. He is right! Low pay, NCLB, highly competitive neighbors are all pulling your best and brightest away from you. When will Pierre take notice?
It was not until this year that I ran into two perfect examples of how detrimental this pay differential is for South Dakota. Ellendale is only 35 min north of Aberdeen along US Hwy 281, so when we post for applicants we look in both North and South Dakota. My first example was a 1st year English teacher with no education beyond her bachelors. She was an absolutely exceptional candidate and we offered her a position. To my dismay that offer was in excess of $5000 more than her present salary. She did not end up taking our offer, but engagements do funny things. Next, we ran into a husband and wife team from down by Yankton. They were NSU grads that had been teaching 20 plus years each. They had masters’ degrees, did many duties, and were highly regarded by their present school. With that experience and education they were presently being paid less than Ellendale’s base salary. That is shameful! We ended up getting both to agree to move north and they probably made over $25,000 in additional salary. Wouldn’t you move for that? South Dakota you lost. You lost at least two of your best and brightest. Your schools are losing their very best every day, when will you notice?
I was born and raised in South Dakota and I am posting this OpEd only because I care and think more can be done. I have family, school aged relatives, that enter your schools every day. They deserve the best and brightest. I believe your good teachers should not follow the footsteps of Williams and Ree and leave the state and promise to never return. Just like those two comedians they can, they will, come back but the climate must change. Start making education the priority, and not the entity that gets the 1-2% that is left over, when it is all said and done.
The number of new students arriving at Ellendale School is beyond anything we have ever seen before, at least in my tenure here. Here is a comparison of actively enrolled students as of today (3/17/15) as compared to the same date last year.
As a note.. as I am crafting this post. We just had two more 5th graders enroll. Like I said it is beyond anything we have seen before.
Transparency in all we do in education is even more important today than it has ever been. I feel with the increasing scrutiny of education, political power grabs, and general sense of skepticism that we need do our best to give as much information as we can to our patrons. I do think Ellendale School does a pretty good job of sharing information, but I know we can do better. As we embark in a couple weeks on our AdvancEd external team review I thought it might be a good time to share with you many of the things we share with our public. Much of this will include links to our district web site, which is the portal to almost all of this information.
AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress. This is the district report card required by NCLB and can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/curriculum/curriculum_main.html Here you can see our student performance data and required postings for NCLB.
AdvancEd – this is our school improvement plan including our goals and actions we plan to take. This can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/schoolboard/advanced/ In mid March an external team of educators will be visiting Ellendale School for two days reviewing our plan and our school. This will culminate in a report which will guide us for the next few years.
Standards – the news about standards has been in the news a great deal the past few months. We have supplied a link to information on the standards at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/CommonCore/Parent/ This is a great place to read the specific standards and learn more about them.
School Board – this section contains present and past board meeting documents. These will include almost all of our handouts and is being worked on monthly. This section also has a link to school policy which is easily searchable. There are links to employee handbooks and much more at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/schoolboard/schoolboard_main.html
Scholarships Information and Career Guidance – this can be found on Miss Weeds page and is an outstanding resource for parents of Jr’s and Sr’s. It can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/careers_scholarships/careers_main.html You will find information on how to apply for scholarships, career planning checklists, and NCAA eligibility regulations.
Bullying – We believe bullying is a serious issue and that by knowing we can help. This section explains more about what is bullying and provides a form so people and share with us information about instances that may be happening outside our view. It can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/nobullying/
Weather – Weather is a conversation every day. Ellendale School hosts a permanent weather station on our roof and this data can be retrieved by anyone. So if you want to see the monthly observations from this station they can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/weather/ On this page make sure to check out the Weatherbug EHS page and also the ND Winter Wx Briefing. They are both exceptional resources.
Tradebooks – have you ever wondered what books teachers read to students. We have supplied a list of all the tradebooks we use along with their lexile and in what class we use them. This can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/curriculum/ElemTradeBooks.pdf
Health – need to learn more about immunzations or head lice, then go to our Health and Wellness page at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/health_services/health_main.html
I hope you check out all the information we have posted on our web site. These are in no way all of the information we have for parents, teachers, or our students. Again, I think we do a good job of sharing a great deal about what is happening in your school. I hope this will ensure that we have everyone using this information and learning more about their school.
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (www.smarterbalanced.org) is a consortium of states that were funded to build a digital assessment aligned with the common core standards. DPI selected this assessment to replace the ND State Assessment made by CTB-McGrawHill in 2009. The previously used NDSA tests in Reading/Language Arts, Math, and Science were completed in the fall of each year, aligned to the ND State Standards based on the common core, and were completed on paper and pencil. The results were usually received in the late spring and were used to determine if our school passed or failed per NCLB. Starting this school year we are now directed to use the old NDSA for science and this was given in the fall of 2014. The new Smarter Balanced Assessment, also aligned to the ND Standards based on the common core, will test Reading/Language Arts and Math starting in March. The Smarter Balanced test is computerized and this will be the very first time that our students have taken this test.
Let me begin with what concerns me. The Smarter Balanced test is new, aside from what teachers, administrators, and board members have seen on practice tests, this is the very first time we will see it in full use. I believe the test is more demanding of our students. I am not saying that is bad but I am concerned students will be fatigued by it and not persevere. Please understand.. I know we have hard working kids, that is not the issue. But, you and I both remember the old bubble sheet tests with a question and four answers. If we didn’t know the answer or were just tired what were we trained to do…. Pick C. Yes I admit I did it! These new tests are asking more multiple step problems. The practice questions I have taken require mastery of not just one single skill but several to complete them. The questions I have seen are good, but demanding. A student cannot simply pick C. Will they have the determination to work through these types of problems? Time will tell.
If you would like to give them a try yourself here is a link to their public practice test site - http://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/
Secondly, I am concerned that once the test is done and the results are tallied we, like other states, are going to see a drop. We are going to go from 84.21% proficient in Reading for the elementary (2013-2014 AYP report) to immediately drop to less than 50% proficient, and honestly nothing would have changed except the test. We will be teaching the same lessons, in the same fashion, at the same rate as we have for the past several years but the test will tell everyone we are failing. That concerns me.
Here is why my eyes are crossing. How can any school or business keep an eye on their performance, and improve, when the measurement device is changing. Just think about it for a minute… if you were farming and the tool you used to measure effectiveness of your herbicide was changing. In this example your tool would make a record of the total number of weeds you had in a 1000ft row. Then based on that number it said (Great-Good-Poor-Awful). Tool 1 (the old tool) said you were Great, even though you had just a few weeds, lets say 10. Then a new tool comes along, tool 2, and it reports Poor. However when you go out there the same 10 weeds are present. What has changed? Not your farming. Not the number of weeds. Nothing but the report from the tool. Can you feel your eyes crossing yet? As a school leader, I am focused on monitoring student performance and achievement. It is the reason we are here, to teach our students and get them to learn. So will I now watch the results from Smarter Balanced and immediately say “Oh my gosh we must be failing!”. No.. I won’t. I am going to encourage everyone to keep their eyes, like I am keeping mine, on our north star. This for us is the NWEA MAP diagnostic. We have used this examination since the spring of 2007 and it will be what I watch to see if we are successful or not. I will not be putting my eggs in the Smarter Balanced basket for a few years. After that test has a few years of data and we can see true trend information, I will shift my gaze toward it. But, until that time has passed, please be patient. Do not immediately believe that Ellendale or any school is immediately failing based on these results. Parents, keep your eyes on your child’s MAP results. Smarter Balanced is required to comply with NCLB and at this point, that is all it is worth to me. I hope you can do the same.
You are right, measles is an old disease. It is reported to have been around since the 9th century. In 1912 measles became a nationally notifiable disease with nearly 6,000 deaths from it being reported per year. By the mid 60′s almost all children contracted the measles with 300-400 each year dying from the disease. Then also in the 1960′s came the development of a vaccine for measles and the eventual path toward ridding us of measles complete, even though that did not happen. However, in 2000 the disease was nearly no-existent in the United States.
Now measles is again making headlines. Confirmed cases around the United States are making their way closer to North Dakota every day. There are confirmed cases reported in South Dakota and Minnesota, affecting primarily young adults and children. If you would like to learn more about measles you can follow this link to information on the CDC web site. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/signs-symptoms.html
This nation wide outbreak does affect schools in our region. Due to the proximity of confirmed cases and the mobility of our population it is something Ellendale School and Dickey County Health are monitoring. If you child is immunized (received the MMR vaccination two times- minimum 28 days apart) already your child is for the most part safe from measles. However, even with the vaccination it is reported your child may still have a 1% chance of contracting the disease if exposed. On the flip side if your child is not vaccinated they have a 99% chance of contracting the disease if exposed. If you child is not immunized I would encourage you to contact your families health care professional to discuss your options.
Many people ask what would happen if measles would make its way to Ellendale. First and foremost don’t panic, measles will probably effect a very small portion of the population. But, in a school things must be address quickly to help prevent the spread of this disease. NDCC 23-07-17.1 allows schools the right to exclude students from attendance if they are not current with their vaccinations. This is only foreseeable in a time when a contagious disease, such as measles, is present in our community. If that were the case we would work closely with each and every family to find ways to continue a child’s education, possibly using technology or sending home assignments, until the outbreak would pass. As a proactive response we would again encourage families to contact their health care providers if they have a child lacking the MMR immunizations.
If you have other questions about measles you can also contact Dickey County Health at 349-4348 for more information.
Credit - http://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html
With the birth of a new year and the kick off of the legislative season in our great state my mind is filled with many more rambling thoughts than concentrated focused ones. So I thought I would just share some ramblings on a wide variety of topics today.
New Year – New Students
With the start of the new year EPS gains some more students. I am not sure how many know this but EPS has seen what might be considered a small population explosion this year. When I compare enrollment today (1/16) to a year ago here are the differences: High School: Today 147 – Yr Ago 140; Elementary: Today 174 – Yr Ago 150; Maple River: Today 31 – Yr Ago 30. So in total student population is up 32 kids from a year ago. That is an easily recognizable increase in the hallways. Particularly since of the 24 new kids in the elementary 10 of them have deposited themselves in 3rd grade.
Due to the enrollment increase in 3rd grade we have had to adjust our instructional staff almost monthly. Planning for 18 students in May, then 23 in Sept, 24 by Oct 1st, 26 by Nov 1, and then 27 in December had its challenges. As of today that number has jumped again to now 28 students. During the fall the district approved hiring an aide for the classroom but as of 2015, now 28 in the room, we are making another change. Starting on Jan 26th a second 3rd grade teacher will be added to our faculty and we will be splitting the class to now 2 sections of 14.
Yes, I support students knowledge of civics. The people that Jay Leno used to interview on the street…made me wonder where they went to school. That being said I am not a fan of the proposed new legislation requiring students to pass a civics examination. Students are already required to complete course work that has civics elements embedded into it. You remember when you were in high school.. didn’t you have to learn the ND Representatives, who the VP was, and how many justices were on the Supreme Court. Yes, we did. It is still the same today. Our students must complete 3 credits of Social Studies that must include US History and POD. I am not a fan of requiring another test. I believe our students are tested enough and for many of those tests we don’t have any option of giving them or not. Many of them are simply required by some higher power. Tests that provide teachers with valuable data to improve instruction for individual students – GREAT. But, just another test that students only need to get a 60% on, to make us all feel better, I am not a huge fan. If you want to see the test you can take it at http://goo.gl/Rl48jY
I must admit I am now one of those people. For years I have watched parents of wrestlers jump off their seats, run around the room, and nearly be on the mat during matches. From the outside I thought “wow crazy”. I am now one of them, I am sorry. You may not know my son started wrestling last year for the first time. Lisa and I have transitioned from 100% basketball fans to now being part of the wrestling fraternity. But being “crazy” not till this year did it happen. I now realize how excited a parent can feel when they have watched their child struggle, by themselves, on the mat match after match. Being so close so many times to a win but not getting there. Till that day it happens, the win, or the PIN! Then without even realizing it I find myself jumping up and down, off my seat. What just happened? I will apologize in advance, but sometimes DAD gets excited. I have not ventured down to the side of the mat yet, I still think that is kind of crazy, but no guarantees.
The UND / NDSU rivalry has been around since the late 1800’s with the actual Nickel being contested since 1938 (76 yrs). The Little Brown Jug that has bounced between Michigan and the U of Minnesota dates back to 1892 (122 yrs). The Cowbell trophy was started in 1946 making it, 69 yrs old this season. The NDSU/ SDSU Dakota Marker has only been around since 2004, so it is a pup in comparison to all of these.
In 1946 the first meeting of the United Nations took place in London. The U.S. President was Mr. Harry S. Truman and first class stamp cost three cents. The St. Louis Cardinals (picked this one on purpose) won the World Series and “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out in the movie theater. Not listed on many of the common history web sites is the creation of the cowbell game. But, it was an event of historical significance. How many things do we do in our lives that have such lasting impact, aside from our children? How many of us will ever create anything that is talked about and still treasured seventy years later, as is the cowbell?
Supt’s Quam and Ingvalson along with Coaches Cummings and Pickens must be applauded yet today for leading their men into such a long standing engagement as this. I wonder what the captains thought so many years ago. Do you image they were ready and eager to be part of this or did they think their leaders were kind off their rockers? I wonder if Supt. Ingvalson was open to the idea back in 1946 or was he thinking this was just a crazy adventure? No matter, because they all took to the idea and must have thought it was something that could stand the test of time. If they wouldn’t have they would not have stated that the game would go on till “the world and its inhabitants have been reduced to dust”.
I want to thank all those then and now that make this contest something special. It has changed over time from its early innocence, to the unbridled rivalry in the mid years, to now a respected tradition in both schools. I want to wish both teams the best of luck this week. May each of us take time to reflect upon the history of this great tradition and just soak it all in on Friday night.
Mr. Jeff Fastnacht
1. If you were asked to identify the staring roles in “Gone with the Wind” how would you find them?
2. If you had a serious problem what would be the first thing you did?
3. There is a serial number that you need to remember, what do you do to remember it for later use?
( Answers to these questions are in the post marked with **)
Education is a human endeavor, and technology will never replace a good teacher. In fact a good teacher is an absolutely necessary ingredient when schools use technology successfully. Ellendale is in year two of a 1:1 initiative that has brought forth many changes to how we educate our students. Some of the positive changes have been:
- We are asking students to take a leadership role in their learning since they can now easily access information inside and outside the walls of the school.
- Teachers that simply asked knowledge based questions are being out smarted by students with Google. It is driving us to ask deeper questions, gaining deeper understanding.
- Students are now given more opportunities to share their knowledge and creativity. Students empowered with a camera, video camera, presentation tools, music, and broad resources can now compose their knowledge in dynamic ways. Much better than simply asking for a poster or diorama.
- Accessing help on any topic is now quicker and easier. A student is not left alone to simply dig in a text. Now they can ask a broader group for help. This group can be their classroom of students or it could be others from anywhere in the world.
Yet, while we are seeing some impressive changes I am still surprised to hear some comments stating, students should only be using a paper bound encyclopedia to access information. Some have stated that having students work together to solve problems is just cheating for some in the group. Then just recently I had someone share a concern about students taking pictures of notes… they indicated they should “write them out, just like we had to do”. These comments surprise and amaze me. If you were given the three tasks from the questions above, “What would you do”?
**For the questions above I am guessing most adults would answer these as follows: a. Google it b. Text or email my friends to get their advice and c. Take a picture of it with my phone.
THEN.. Why won’t we let our kids do it? We are in a modern world that has given our students, and us, access to tools that not only make learning easier but also our daily lives. In 1985 I may have been asked to memorize the lead roles in “Gone with the Wind”, but why would we do that today? Why would we do this when they can be Googled in .60 seconds (actual time from my desk). Google and having 1:1 for our students has made teachers better by getting them to focus less on the facts and more on the why and how. Secondly, in our modern jobs we are asked to work extensively as teams. We don’t ever consider this cheating. It is the wise practice resulting in better products, better service, and more engaged employees. Then why not at school? The problem is that we often focus on the completely arbitrary and meaningless grade! Yes I said it…meaningless grade. What should matter most is what did the student learn. Lastly, the last comment I think is pure jealousy as they only wished they could taken a picture of their teachers notes back in 1985. I know it would have definitely saved me from having a sore wrist, if I would not have had to copy all of Mr. Fonder’s notes. Seriously, though if you had to keep track of a special note or message, wouldn’t you just take a picture of it?
The world and education are changing. Schools and education are still important. Teachers are still critically important to the success of ones education. Books will be around for centuries to come. But, teaching and learning in the same ways we used to in 1985, some of these things do have to change.
As I take a few moments this “Teacher Appreciation Week” 2014 I am reflecting on the impact of my teachers. I am thinking about what they perceive as their legacy to their profession and the children that have ventured through their doors. What impact have they had? As I thought about this more I thought about my own career. One of the realizations I have come to understand more as I have accumulated gray hair is that I am wiser. I am able to reflect upon issues now that were outside of my view when I was young. I realize that I do see the world and education differently than I did when I was 22 years old. ”If I knew then… ”
Edutopia and SoulPancake made this video about this very topic that I wish to share with you. I give them credit for crafting this idea and putting these teachers thoughts into a thoughtful and inspirational story. Please watch this..
Letter to Self —————————————–
Welcome to your first day of teaching. You are full of spirit and ready to tackle the world and that is wonderful, hold onto that enthusiasm. There will be trials that erode it. Hold onto it. As you do, realize that the relationships you will be making with your students may be some of the most important relationships in your students lives. You won’t see it now but some of your students will become leaders, some will excel in politics and business, but some will also fail. Some of your students will end up in jail. Some will not make it to their 25th birthday. Give time to each and every student and use that boundless energy to truly connect with your students. It may be a life changing relationship for them and you.
Young self, also realize that you don’t know it all. As much as you want to try the latest and greatest ways to teach never lose focus on the fundamentals. You will learn later that without the fundamentals advancing ones skills is nearly impossible. Just as you do on the basketball court, focus on the fundamentals first.
Lastly, know that this career is the right one. You will have times that try your patience. The nights after getting beat down by athletes parents or others will fade. You will make a difference and your work in education will be valued.
Your Older Self