• Working Hard and Smart

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/19/2018 8:00:00 AM

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    I enjoyed Mike Rowe’s book Profoundly Disconnected.  While it is really light-hearted and fun to read, the book makes powerful points about the future for our students.  His collective message boils down to one simple thought: “Work smart AND work hard.”  

    He believes strongly in the power of multiple pathways to a happy life, not all of them involve college.  He believes having strong technical skills and training will open as many doors to success as a college diploma.

    We are fortunate to have Western Area Career and Technical Center available to us.  Western Area, or Vo-Tech, offers students training in technical, mechanical and trade skills for high school students AT NO CHARGE to the student.  You can graduate with a technical credential and start in a well-paying job right away!  Now that’s working hard and working smart!

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  • Let the Games Begin!

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/15/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Clip art of a skier

    As the winter Olympics have grabbed my attention lately, I can’t help but relate our work to develop a growth mindset in our students to the experiences of the many athletes in the Olympics.

    If you have watched any of the winter games, you will have seen a plethora of inspiring vignettes, video stories to highlight an athlete’s career, inner drive and relentless preparation to reach the heights worthy of the Olympics.   Common themes in these stories are commitment and hard work.  What is not specifically mentioned is how much the athlete confidently believes in his or her potential to get better, to win, to earn a medal.  Clearly, one would not commit to a life of constant training and trials unless one believed the best outcome would follow the commitment.  Therein lies the power of a growth mindset.  Believe in yourself.  Always remember, when coupled with hard work and commitment, the belief can take you to incredible, medal- winning heights.

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  • Love it!

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/14/2018 8:00:00 AM

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    Happy Valentine's Day!

    Valetine's Day reminds us about the power of love, being passionate about life, to love what you do and do it well.

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  • It's working!

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/29/2018 8:00:00 AM

    I posted several blog entries last summer on the power of a growth mindset.  I am making the argument to our school community on the necessity for building a growth mindset in our students, so they will operate from the belief in their limitless potential rather than from a belief in many limitations to their abilities.

    I am so pleased to see and hear so many growth mindset sentiments around our classrooms.  Signs in classrooms and hallways have sprung up, including positive messages on the mirrors of student bathrooms.  We have become surrounded!  "Believe in your (student) potential."

    With sincere appreciation for their support, I am proud to say our teachers are incorporating the ideas of a growth mindset in their daily interactions with students.  They are the biggest proponents of the potential in our students.

    It's working!  Bit-by-bit, we will change mindsets because we know students perform better in school when they and their teachers believe that intelligence is not fixed, but can be developed.  We know teaching students that intelligence can be “grown” is especially powerful for students who belong to underperforming groups.  We firmly believe a growth mindset keeps a person's focus on their effort and motivation to overcome challenging work - and that will lead to more and more success.  Great job, everyone!

     

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  • Lecture Series

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2018 12:00:00 PM

    I want to thank the Burgettstown Community Library for hosting our "lecture series" entitled "Keeping you Company."  The District Administrators have lined-up a series of free talks and demonstrations at the library for our parents and the entire community to share what we are doing.  Here are the details.  Join the conversations!

    January 24

    6:30 pm

    “Understanding today while thinking about the future: The State of the Burgettstown Area School District”

    - Dr. James Walsh, Superintendent

    January 31

    6:30 pm

    “A focus on good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle”

    - Jennifer Herbst, Director of Food Service

    February 7

    6:30 pm

    “Successfully navigating your education when you face academic, physical or emotional challenges” 

    - Michele Burton, Supervisor of Special Education

    February 28

    6:30 pm

    “Mathematical Mindsets”

    - Melissa Mankey, Elementary Center Principal

    March 7

    6:30 pm

    “Creativity and Problem-Solving”

    - Mandi Figlioli, Assistant Superintendent

    - Chris Navadauskas, Director of Technology

    March 21

    6:30 pm

    “Pathways to a Successful Future: College or Trades”

    Brian Fadden, High School Principal & Craig Zeigler, Director of Buildings and Grounds

    April 4

    6:30 pm

    “The Power of a Growth Mindset”

    - Jacqueline Good burn, Director of Staff Development

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  • Keeping Focused

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Here I am repeating a previous posting of a timely message...

    We are at a mid-point in the school year.  This is the ideal time to settle for a moment and reflect on the progress each of us has made this year.  Thinking about yourself for a moment, are you satisfied with the progress you have made on your personal goal(s)? How much have you accomplished with the time spent?  If you feel good about your achievements and accomplishments, I offer wishes of congratulations for a job well done.

    If not, you have to ask yourself what happened.  Can you remove the barriers which are keeping you from achieving your goals?  You still have time.  There is half of the year left.  Make a new plan.  List all of the steps you need to take between here and the success you desire.  Be sure you identify the people who can help you.  Ask them now for the help you need.  Do not settle for mediocrity or half-hearted dreams.

    Legendary soccer player, Pele, once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” 

     

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  • I believe that we will win!

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/30/2017 1:00:00 PM

    One of my favorite stand cheers at high school football games, complete with the shouting leader and echoed by the rest of the students, goes something like this:

    I

    I believe

    I believe that

    I believe that we

    I believe that we will

    I believe that we will win

    I believe that we will win…

     

    It includes all sorts of cheering, shouting and jumping up and down.

    Now that you have the visual, let me take the same cheer and apply it to our school reform efforts.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that, in short time, we will see improvements in student achievement in all levels and in all areas.  I am this confident, because, for the past two years, I have seen our teachers working feverishly on these improvement efforts:

    • Writing clear and detailed curriculum maps, which we will align to PA Core Standards to ensure a rigorous, standards-based curriculum is well-planned from Kindergarten to graduation.
    • Employing more and more engaging technologies and winning instructional strategies to better capture the attention and interest of today’s learner, thereby increasing his/her chances for understanding.
    • Making extinct the famous “packets” of worksheets / activities, which keep a student quiet and occupied, but do not engage the brain in any true learning.
    • Diving deeply into our professional development, including our menu-driven choice days, to pick-up all sorts of useful strategies to immediately apply to their classrooms. Some are also stepping-up to share what they know well as a host of one of these menu choices.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that, at the same time, we will infuse our curriculum and instruction with all the necessary 21st Century skills and competencies.  I am confident because I see:

    • Our “Maker spaces” well-used to challenge students with problem-solving and creative, critical thinking challenges.
    • Some of teachers have re-designed their learning spaces to foster more collaboration and student interactions.
    • A few teachers have obtained generous grant funding to implement new tools and techniques in their classrooms, like “break-out boxes” or flexible seating to create communication and problem-solving experiences.
    • We now have a science club for girls at the elementary school and a tech ed. club at the high school. We are starting a chess club, too.
    • We have a computer science course in the high school, and we are seeking to add more process-thinking curriculum at the middle and elementary schools.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that we will see a marked decrease in student apathy in the next few years.  It is as easy as 1+1=2.  When all of the aforementioned efforts happen, then students will be more intrigued by and immersed in learning.  When they are more engaged, their efforts increase and achievement increases.  With the timely death of the “packet”, the infusion of 21st Century tools, the engaging lessons and student choice scattered throughout the day, our students will find school an exciting, relevant and necessary place to be every day.  1+1=2.  A great experience = a great education = a wide-open future.

    Join me in this.  Stand and cheer.  I believe that we all win when we all stand together and cheer for each other’s success.

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  • Thankfulness

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/21/2017 10:00:00 AM

    Today we wrap-up our week early and head into the Thanksgiving holiday break.  This is the perfect time to reflect on the successes of the school year and celebrate with gratitude the contributions of entire Burgettstown faculty and staff.  We are indeed thankful for…

     

    • Our custodians for an intense summer of cleaning and restoration, and for keeping our schools looking so new despite all of the “messiness” of education.
    • Our bus drivers for the 1,200 mile of safe travel per day brining our most prized possessions, our students, to and from school. You are the first and last welcoming, encouraging face they see each and every day.
    • Our school office staff and secretaries for the welcoming environment you create in the schools and for the impeccable efficiencies you maintain each and every day.
    • Our cafeteria staff for preparing such delicious and nutritious meals each day, keeping us ready for the hard work we have to do.
    • Our paraprofessionals for the attentive and supportive energies you expend on behalf of students.
    • Our teachers for creating educational “experiences” each day to educate, motivate and inspire our students for a lifetime of achievement.
    • Our counselors for the thoughtful, caring way you meet each student’s needs, removing barriers, opening doors, lifting heavy hearts and keeping everyone on the narrow path of success.
    • Our administrators for tirelessly and inspiringly attending to every detail of the school operation, so the rest of us can work productively and unremittingly.
    • Our parents for the trust and support of what we love to do.
    • Our Board of School Directors for the volunteer service to the students of the Burgettstown Area School District. We can’t do this without you.
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  • Change is in the air!

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/9/2017 11:00:00 AM

    Change is in the air.  As the leaves fall and the thermometer drops, we notice the obvious signs the season is changing around us.  Like it or not, the forces of nature take hold and we must respond.  We bundle-up; we fire-up the furnace.  We prepare ourselves to respond to the situation around us.  There is a change in the air around the Burgettstown schools, too.   The change I am talking about is much more than leaves falling.  We are changing some of foundational ways we operate, which make us hopeful and proud to be educators in this school district.

    Professional development is one area of critical change, because we believe with absolute clarity in the importance of great teachers.  We have invested significant resources (more time, Title II monies, and dedicated an administrative position) in the growth of our teachers.  Whether it has been district-wide initiatives like developing a growth mindset, or individual teacher initiatives such as “choice day” in-services, we want to be sure our teachers are getting all the tools and ideas they need to provide the best possible education to every student.  There is nothing more important to our educational success than ensuring we have excellent teachers in every room.

    We also have expanded the important role the department chairs play in our successful operations.  We are relying steadily on their ability to organize their department, focus time toward their needs, and bring more clarity to the best ideas.  To play on an old adage, we believe there is strength in small, concentrated numbers. 

    We also believe there are leadership opportunities all around us, just waiting for a teacher-leader to pick-up and carry to fruition for all of us.  As much as I admire and appreciate the administrative team, we know we cannot solve all the problems ourselves.  We are relying on teacher leaders to seize the day.

    One of the nice consequences of these changes has been a refreshing change in attitudes.  I have heard more teachers say, “I’ve got an idea” this year than ever before.  I have been engaged in more substantive and honest discussions with colleagues about important problems we are facing.  I see more signs, decorations and embellishments in classrooms and hallways promoting school spirit and belief in our students’ potential.  Clearly, change is in the air and everyone’s breathing it in.  From bus driver to custodian to teacher to paraprofessional to secretary to administrator, we are on the same team trying to accomplish the same mission: education for a lifetime of achievement.

    There are great changes taking place in Burgettstown, large and small; each one takes us a positive growth step forward.  Join the movement!

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  • A Check for Understanding

    Posted by James Walsh on 10/26/2017 4:00:00 PM

    We have reached the end of our first grading period, which is a quarter of the way through the school year.  At this point, we have successfully transitioned the district into a new grading scale, where 90% and above = A, 80% to 80% = B, etc...  At the same time, we have established uniform grading practices in all grades and departments, including weighted grades.  Weighting grades means assigning a percentage to each category of grades relative to their overall importance in the course.  For instance,  homework is worth only 10% of the overall grade or quizzes are worth 25% of the overall grade. All categories together will amount to 100%.  Also, similar courses in a department will carry the same grading system.

    Our overall goal with both changes is to ensure grades accurately communicate a students overall achievement in a course.  That means the grade should reflect the level of mastery of course curriculum the student has achieved.  We do not allow a student's grades to be clouded by points awarded for behaviors or compliance.  Gone are the days when you can dutifully complete the homework, fail the tests and still get a C.  If homework only counts for 10% of the grade, you need to do well on the tests and quizzes to get a good grade in the course.  

    We expect some "growing pains" from the students as they adjust to a more direct correlation between their grade and their hard work and preparation.  In the end, grades should communicate a story to you: a story about how much curriculum the student has mastered.

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