A guide for North Dakota students
I will be honest this is an adaptation from the work of Cesare Catà of Bon Bosco High School in Fermo, Italty. In 2015 he proposed a similar list for his students departing his classroom for their summer break. This list, set in North Dakota, is hopefully an inspiration to Ellendale Public School students, and others, to make the most of their summer. Because learning is not just about the core subjects but also about expanding our horizons, experiences, and nourishing our souls.
I had the wonderful opportunity to engage in some solid educational discussions about today’s kids and schools. For those of you that were at the Bakery on Monday, thank you. These sort of discussions help me be a better educator and I do listen to your concerns. In one small part of our discussion we talked about the new things in our education that have slowly pushed out the 3 R’s. It is true, schools today are dedicating more time to other topics then schools did in 1920-30. To help explain here is a list. I took this from www.jimievollmer.com as I heard him speak about this same subject this last year.
** Disclaimer ** I am not getting into who actually mandated these be taught but in short it does not matter if it was federal or state. Each of these is being driven by changes in our society and each of these changes is expected to be addressed in your school. It is just our reality. At the same time, the actual length of a school year has changed little since the mid 1900’s (175 days for us).
———– from www.jamievollmer.com ————-
In the 1950s, we added:.
In the 1970s, we added:
Whew.. that is one heck of a list.
Have you ever opened up an utility bill for your home or business and been shocked at the cost? I have to believe everyone has had this feeling. Electricity, water, sewer, telephone, internet all cost money and for your school district these are big ticket items within the budget. During the 2015-2016 school year the following amounts were projected to be spent in these areas:
Since the installation of an electric boiler to replace one of our two aging fuel oil boilers in 2008 the districts fuel oil costs have declined dramatically, however electricity costs have continued to rise. Additional, the square footage added in 2011 and improved HVAC systems have increased electrical usage. When your school is budgeting nearly $150,000 dollars a year on these utilities it was a wise course of action to see if there were ways to save. Late last year the Ellendale School Board agreed to use the services of the CTS Group. CTS provides site wide energy efficiency studies to schools, counties, and cities. Over the winter CTS has been reviewing utility usage and bills. They have completed lighting, heating/cooling, and site surveys. All of these with the goal to find ways that the district can save money.
This week the Ellendale Public School Board agreed to formally hire CTS Group to manage a multi-faceted energy efficiency improvement project. This project will begin in the summer of 2016 and take about 12 months to complete. The elements of their recommendations are:
All together these three projects, along with fixing some minor building envelope air leakage issues, will cost $1,087,012. WOW that is a big number. The intriguing part of using the services of the CTS group is they use a portion of NDCC that allows schools to lease purchase these improvements, at little to no cost over 15 years. This is contingent upon the energy saved can exceed the capital costs to pay for the project. Ellendale School is leveraging this program to complete these improvements with little to no new costs being added to the budget. CTS Group shall monitor energy savings for the 15 years and if at such a time that projected savings fall below their estimates they are bound to reimburse the district the difference. Thus ensuring the quality and sustainability of these improvements. Ellendale School has secured a 15 year lease with an attractive interest rate of only 2.55%. The district will pay for the majority of the annual payments for these improvements with funds presently allocated in the budget for energy expenditures.
Since April 3rd, and the end of the NDGOP Convention, the center of all education news has been the perceived ditching of the common core standards. Political and educational leaders in our state, in my view, succumb to the political pressure of the few in making these policy statements. But, did they think of the cost?
If they are tossing out the present standards what is the guide for our teachers next year? Standards are simply a guide for all teachers. They ensure that all grade-level or subject area instruction are similarly focused on the same points of light, thus ensuring students in one school are receiving similar instruction to students in another school. In the absence of standards we would devolve into what we had in the past where teachers could pick and choose what they thought was most important. This may seem like a nice idea but was a failure to our kids. If you have not taken a look at what they are proposed to do away with take a look at https://www.nd.gov/dpi/schoolstaff/assessment/unit/ Here are two examples from English Language Arts:
• Gr 1 – Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words. Part a – Know and spelling-sound correspondences for common consonant digraphs.
• Gr 11-12 – Demonstrate knowledge of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.
For those detractors, I ask you, what is wrong with these?
The second cost is the unintended holding pattern such a statement puts on all good things going on in our state in regard to education. Programs for English Language Learners, Response to Intervention (RtI), School Improvement (AdvancEd), and even re-writing the rules for the new federal ESSA program screech to a halt in the environment where we are blindly tossing out our standards. Each of these programs builds upon the foundation the standards provide for us and waiting for a full re-write of both ELA and Math will cost North Dakota, schools, and our kids millions.
Lastly, and often not seen by those outside of education, is the power of unified tools within the education world. In manufacturing you agree upon a set of standards and all your drafting, engineering, milling, and production systems align with those standards. Imagine part of those systems using US standard measurement, some metric, and then one something just made up by the systems maker. Your business would grind to a halt. A unified set of standards has provided education instructional tools, textbooks, technology systems, and yes even tests that all speak the same language. In my 25 plus years in education only recently can we transition a child from multiple intervention tools and feel very confident that they are all addressing the same instructional goals. Again, blindly tossing out our standards, just for political sake, will cost our students the most precious gift we give them, knowledge.
On Thursday, May 5th Mr. Joel Heitkamp on his show “News & Views” interviewed North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler to clarify her view on this subject. Listen to that interview http://kfgo.com/podcasts/news-views-with-joel-heitkamp/2615/superintendent-kirsten-baesler-we-are-not-getting-rid-of-common-core/ Parents, community members, proponents, and opponents of the common core.. Supt. Baesler is right on this. I fully support the idea that this is a good and proper time to review our standards. But, if any think we should toss the baby out with the bath water you are not considering the costs this will have on your schools or your kids.
Even by reviewing the standards it is costing education. Every school is having to hold on programs as this takes place. In Ellendale we will have to hold back on progressing with standards based report cards for K-3. At the state level the good work of the assessment task force will have to be put on hold till the review is done. Let’s have North Dakota teachers review them, adjust some of the items that need tweaking, but for the most part keep the standards we have been using. They are working. In the end maybe we can all agree that our standards are sound and the proper direction of our children’s education. Maybe we can even depoliticize education a bit! Then we can work together to achieve the ultimate goal where every student is prepared for post-secondary, the working world, or the military.
This is never an easy discussion to have, no matter what time or what group I am speaking. Reducing teaching faculty or staff immediately brings anxious feelings, rightfully so. However, that does not mean it cannot be addressed. So over the past several months the EPS Administrative Team (Mr. Herman, Mr. Girard, and I) have been discussing with the School Board the future size of our teaching faculty.
Our discussion focused on several keys points that all indicated that we should be strongly considering a reduction in our faculty. The key points are:
Here is a representation of our present elementary grades showing class sizes and sections for each. On the top are present numbers for four schools including Ellendale Elementary. You can see this year EES has a student to teacher ratio of 14.5:1. This is significantly lower than all our surrounding schools. Oakes, which is larger by over 100 students is situated between 2 to 3 sections per grade. While, LaMoure and Edgeley, who are more closely aligned with us have transitioned to only one section per grade. We have been stuck in the middle of these two configurations for some time and now with two teaching positions opening we feel it is time to only fill one. This would result in our teaching faculty to look more like what is represented in the bottom row.
** NOTICE ** This is all based on projections. If for some reason we would lose or gain a significant number in any one grade in our proposed plan. Then good plans have to change. Just saying. **
Ultimately I believe a student to teacher ratio around 16-17 to 1 is still very good. It is a wonderful perk of living in a small community and not in a Fargo or Bismarck that can commonly have 22-28 kids to 1 teacher. However, everything has a cost and maintaining a low ratio takes teachers and that takes money. So last night the Ellendale School Board endorsed our proposal and we finalized it with EES faculty this morning. It is a challenge but I also know we have quality teachers that can be successful in this new configuration. So I personally feel we have found a balance between exceptional educational services and fiscal responsibility. I hope you agree.
Many of us grew up in a generation where we were continually reinforced continually that if we just got an A in this class we would be happy. Then it was, if we were just valedictorian, captain of the team, got into this college, got this certain job… each of these would make us happy. Were we always happy?
I want to ask you to consider changing the lens of happiness. Instead of being successful.. then happiness following let us turn that around. If we focused on our happiness first, we can be more successful in school and work. This is a concept I had the opportunity to learn more about at the National AASA Convention in Phoenix earlier this month. It is promoted by Shawn Achor author of “The Happy Secret to Better Work” based on his work at Harvard University. I encourage you to take 10 minutes and watch his presentation on TEDx
After a life time of watching my generation chase after the American dream yet continuing to be unhappy, his message resonated with me. Are we reinforcing the same industry, assembly line belief, that if we just get to the end we will be happy? I think we do. We say it and reinforce it all the time. Just think about it in your own home. I can find 10 ways right now that we do this in school. But, what if we changed our focus on happiness first, success second as Achor proposes?
In his work he identifies three predictors of happiness. They are:
He recommends five actions that we all can do for just 21 days that could change our happiness and success. He proposes 21 days as it takes this long to make a new habit in our brains.
1. Bring gratitude to mind – write down three new things that you are grateful for each day.
2. Journal – About a positive experience you had in the last 24 hours.
3. Exercise – 15 min
4. Meditate – Just watch your body breathe for 2 minutes each day.
5. Random acts of kindness – write a positive email, compliment someone, etc.
My point in sharing this is lets try. I am starting today – Feb 23rd, 2016. I will let you know more after 21 days (March 15th, 2016). I would like to know if you try and if it works for you.
It is about this time every year I am questioned why Ellendale does not have a peewee wrestling program like other schools. Well the answer is simple….
**DISCLAIMER** Before I tell you my answer I want to come clean and state I have a child that participated one year in peewee. He is also now a varsity wrestler so I do have an interest in this program, and it being successful. Yes, I am biased **
For Ellendale School to have a program similar to Oakes, or Webster S.D., or any place else really boils down to one thing – YOU! Each of the programs mentioned benefits greatly from a few highly motivated and dedicated community members or parents willing to get the season started every year. Some note that EPS has programs for little basketball or football players and chastises me for a lack of support for wrestling. The peewee basketball program several years ago and now were run by volunteers interested in that sport. The peewee football program is also organized and run by parent and community volunteers. EPS stands ready to help, but again we need YOU!
At the present time Ellendale has a contract with our varsity coach to coach a peewee program but this is not feasible, within his limited time, until the end of the varsity season. I realize many schools start as early as Dec 1st, but this is commonly due to the work of the aforementioned volunteers. The EPS Athletic program and THUNDER are anxiously awaiting YOU or some other individual that would be willing to head up or assist with our program. You don’t need a degree in coaching. You don’t need to be a past state champion in wrestling. You only need to have an interest, pass a back ground check, and a willingness to help some kids learn more about this outstanding sport. Come on! If people in the community want a program like (insert name here) then you must step up and take action. We are waiting for you.
If you are interested please contact Mr. Matt Herman, Activities Director, at (701) 349-3232 today.
North Dakota Century Code 15.1-07-2 requires school districts to conduct a long term planning meeting every even numbered year. This is intended to provide an opportunity for the Board and community to review and address the effects that demographics might have on the district in the ensuing three-year and five-year periods, and specifically addressing potential effects on: a. Academic and extracurricular programs; b. Instructional and administrative staffing; c. Facility needs and utilization; and d. District tax levies.
The Ellendale School Board has set this meeting for Monday, Feb 8th at 6:45. The presentation given the Board and community at that time will also be published online for all community members to review.
The need for teachers has been a reoccurring topic in both South Dakota and North Dakota for several years. It was thought to be more significant in South Dakota, and that may be so, but according to a recent story in the FORUM it is a growing concern here as well.
“Halfway through the school year, more than 200 teaching jobs remain vacant in North Dakota’s public schools after a “community experts” pilot program aimed at easing the state’s teacher shortage failed to fill a single slot.” (Forum, January 5, 2016)
The story in the Forum focused on the lack of help from a one-year program designed to allow some without teaching degrees to fill specified vacancies. What many don’t realize is that this list of possible positions is very narrow and does not include core subjects. Thus North Dakota continues to have vacancies the following vacancies: 35 in CTE, 32 in Social Studies, and 28 in Special Education. This in comparison to 65 teaching openings posted in South Dakota (www.asbsd.org Jan 6, 2016). So neither state is flush with teaching candidates.
So what are some reasons for the shortage?
Promotion – How many parents today are encouraging their child to become a teacher? Personally, I have had one of my children consider going into law enforcement. My response, “Really, son is that what you want to do?” Then I turn on the news and reinforce that today’s society appears to have little respect or admiration for law enforcement, and by the way you will do that job for little money. Isn’t that the same for the teaching profession? Turn on the news. How often is the profession raised up and admired enough by adults to cause their children to consider it as a career. More often than not, parents are responding to their child’s inquiry to become a teacher as I did to my son about being a cop, negatively.
Autonomy – Almost everyone has a boss. Even CEO’s have a board they must report to. Yet, autonomy in one’s job is a strong indicator or happiness and satisfaction. Educators today have lost almost all their autonomy to do the job they are trained to do. Why would any young person look fondly on a profession that is significantly regulated from the top-down? Kids in our high schools see teachers being threatened and disrespected more and more by students and parents. They fully realize they have to be ready to plan for lessons but also bombs and active shooters. They see teachers spending more time preparing for tests and frustrated. Thus, that office job at Microsoft in Fargo looks better and better and they go for it.
Compensation – Some want to dismiss this but let’s be honest. A student today can become a nurse and earn on average $26/hr ($54,000/yr) or start as a North Dakota teacher for about $34,000/yr. In addition that new nurses at Sanford (Modernhealthcare.com, Jan 1, 2016) will be getting a $20,000 signing bonuses. Wow that would seem simple. Knowing both will leave a North Dakota university with 40-60K in debt which would you choose? In addition, unknown to many outside of the profession, North Dakota teachers will then contribute commonly 12% of that salary to NDTFFR. That does not leave much left to pay the rent.
So what can we do?
The answer will have to be multi-faceted and it will not be corrected quickly. I have proposed to several legislators a need to develop a program to pay off new teacher’s higher education debt. I believe this would be enticing to some students and their parents. Would you encourage your child to pursue a career in education if they could write-off their college debt after 5-6 years of teaching? I also believe we need to promote the profession. We need to work as earnestly as Sanford on shining the positive light on teaching and recruit the best and brightest like they do. Schools don’t have the combined corporate presence that can be accomplished by Sanford or Microsoft but we are going to have to figure out a way to do it. We need to start reaching our young people in elementary school, to get them to see the wonders and benefits of becoming a teacher.
Teacher shortage is a real concern and very shortly there will not be a school in North or South Dakota that is not feeling the pinch, cutting programs, or increasing class sizes. It is going to be inevitable. But, with some work today we can start to turn the tide.
** After Thoughts ** As a teacher myself it is a tremendously rewarding and enjoyable career. I would not change it for the world. I am just glad someone turned me on to it many years ago.
Many of us today received our special pink letter from Dickey County informing us of our annual tax obligation. In an effort to help each of you understand how your school is spending each of the dollars you are providing it I would like to offer you this letter. Within it you will find a short explanation of how each of you dollars, sent to the school are split up and used.
The letter can be found at http://www.ellendale.k12.nd.us/2015-2016Budget&Tax_DollarSplit.pdf