• 2020 Vision

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/14/2020 7:00:00 AM

    microscope clip art

    Five years ago I started as Superintendent in this district.  Both as a means to get to know the administrative team better and to understand the challenges and opportunities in the system, I engaged in an exercise with the administrative team to develop our vision for the system over the next five years.  We called it Vision 2020.  Here we are, five years later.  It is 2020.  How close to fruition is our vision from 2015?  Here are a few of our evaluative perspectives we had in 2015.  I"ll let you be the judge of the success of Vision 2020.

    • INCREASE ENGAGEMENT: Worried about waning enthusiasm for learning and anemic test scores, we sought to infuse energy and creativity into the repertoire of skills our teachers have in their tool box.  We wanted them to incorporate creativity, collaboration, hands-on activities and spirited discussion into the daily regimen of lesson planning, so our students will sink deeply into their learning rather than slip by with cursory compliance.
    • ARTICULATE AN ALIGNED CURRICULUM: We also wanted absolute clarity on the scope and sequence of knowledge and skills our curriculum will provide from Kindergarten through twelfth grade by mapping our course curriculum using an insightful, "backwards" design.
    • DIFFERENTIATION:  We wanted all students to encounter "cognitive sweat" in their academic day, each according to their need and ability, which means multiple, viable pathways through our curriculum offering appropriate challenges and necessary scaffolding to support them on a uniquely challenging journey.
    • QUALITY TEACHING: Knowing from research on schools the essential value of an effective teacher, we committed to high quality, customized professional development.  With adult learning theory to guide our thinking, we sought to improve the quality of, personalization of and usefulness of our in-services and Act 80 time, and thereby, increasing in a variety of positive ways the skill and understanding our teachers have for the difficult work.  We also wanted teachers to clearly feel the esteem they hold in our system, which pays dividends by their return on investment.
    • RELEVANT TECHNOLOGY: To ensure our students are offered a relevant, 21st Century curriculum and engaging instruction which makes them college and work-ready, we want to increase the technology, digital learning tools and sites our students would encounter on a daily basis, thereby moving away from tired, quiet "packets" into their world of on-demand, relevant, interactive / collaborative and personalized learning experiences.
    • PRIDE, SPIRIT and CONNECTEDNESS: We wanted our students to feel connected, respected and valued through a welcoming school climate and spirited opportunities to extend the school day and engage the body, mind and spirit in competition and/or performance.
    • LEADERSHIP: With a profound appreciation for the challenges facing the system, we wanted to develop leadership in all of its forms to understand their value, critical importance and influence in developing a vision, supporting the members of the system according to their need, all to move the system forward each and every day.

    It was a busy five years.  To be fair, some things moved ahead of the others given the circumstances and the influence of the world around us.  School safety, for instance, has become a focal point for schools - much more now than 2015.  We did not account for it in our Vision 2020, but significant time has been paid to safety in these past five years.  Nevertheless, we persisted. 

    In addition, fear, in many forms, prevented our productivity: fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of failure, fear of getting passed by, fear of looking stupid.  With patience, good communication and positive relationships, we know we can overcome the fears and lock arms with each other to move the entire system into the new decade. 

    clip art star   Welcome 2020!  How we have looked forward to meeting you!

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  • Thinking about relationships

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/13/2020 9:00:00 AM

    I have been preaching to the administrative team about the need for positive relationships with coworkers and students in order to keep our arms locked together as we collectively move this district forward.  It seems like a simple concept: nurture the relationships with the people around you by listening to them, talking with them, sharing in the struggles, triumphs and defeats.  Share the space and the world with those around you.  When we feel the camaraderie, we feel supported and energized to take on the real work and difficult struggles of moving the massive system forward.  Then I came across an interesting article in the ASCD Smart Brief* which speaks to the challenging side of relationships.  It made me pause and reflect about my preaching.  The article is about manipulative people who unknowingly make your work harder and/or more stressful.  Here are some highlights:

    • People who repeatedly complain about the same issue want affirmation for their way of doing things, not resolution.   They are manipulative people who want unquestioning support, not solutions or sympathy.  
    • Every suggestion you offer to a disingenuous person will be inadequate, every struggle you share will be bested by one of theirs.
    • Watch the manipulators get others to take up the sword for them while they stand on the sideline, unwilling to fight their own battles.   When you take up the sword FOR someone else, you end up cutting yourself in a way.
    • Manipulative people love to explain why solutions won’t work.  Often times, they harken back to the "good ol' days."
    • When you suggest solutions to manipulators, they keep on babbling. Their goal is to get you to agree they’ve been wronged.   
    • When you ask a manipulative person what he/she would like to do about his/her problem, they come up with things OTHERS should do.
    • Manipulators talk about the offenses of others so you will feel offended for them. “Injustice” is a weapon they use to rally others into a battle that should have been avoided.
    • Manipulators use fear and feelings of being offended to bring ruin on others.  If you leave a conversation offended FOR someone else, you’re bound for ruin in an issue that isn’t yours.  

    How often do our best intentions of nurturing good relationships come in conflict with contrarian, manipulative people?  I think it can be defeating, exhausting and discouraging to encounter them; imagine the encounters happening every day.  The article went on to offer some suggestions:

    Tip #1: Stop offering suggestions after the second off-handed rejection of advice. Instead ask, “What would you like to do?” (And stop talking.)
    Tip #2. Actively listen for excuses and blame, so you are not fooled by them.
    Tip #3. Never do someone’s dirty work for them.
    Tip #4. Beware the offended person who uses “concern for others” as a weapon.
    Tip #5. Be cautious with the person who pretends to seek your advice.
     
    I still firmly believe in the power of positive relationships, even though manipulative people are lurking around us.  I think this article provides proteins to strengthen our resolve.  As they sing in "High School Musical," we are all in this together.
     
    (*It was linked from the "Leadership Freak" Blog where you are challenged to post leadership advice in 300 words or less.)
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  • Mid-point check-up

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/23/2020 7:00:00 AM

    Today is the first day of the second semester.  We are over the hump, the midpoint of the year.  Having been at this point 30 times in my career, I find it always feels like the first semester goes more quickly than the second semester.  I wonder why that is.  Could it be the first semester holidays offer the distractions and an excitement that we enjoy the time more, and thus it goes by more quickly?  As the saying goes, "time flies when you're having fun."  If this is true, I encourage everyone to seek simple ways to enjoy school more; have more fun in second semester.  Teachers can revise tired, old lessons to include more interaction, more "making", more technology or other creative ways to liven-up the curriculum.  Students can approach their school days with a positive mindset: "I am glad to be here.  I am going to learn something new today.  I am going to do my best, etc..."  The power of positive thinking is often connected to amazing developments.  

    positive message about success

    In one of my previous posts, I encouraged everyone to set goals for themselves to take themselves to their "next best" level of success: from where you are now to where you want to be.  One positive step at a time.  So, before we plow headfirst into the new semester, take a few minutes to reflect on your goals.  How close are you to reaching them?  What actions and inactions have contributed to your successes (or lack thereof?)  Reset your focus on the goals and re-commit to achieving your next best!

    Have a productive and a "chock-full-of fun" second semester!

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  • What a night!

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/21/2020 1:00:00 PM

    At the school board meeting on the 13th, it was our sincere pleasure to present to the board an array of students to be honored for their accomplishments as students in our Middle / High School.  We try to do this every month, but this month was unique.  We had such a great cross section of honored students who represent our school so well.  From atheltics, to the arts to Western Area Career and Technical Education to student council, the board got to see how much Burgettstown students excel in everything they do.  We are so proud of everyone!

    • Riley Kemper - Observer-Reporter Fabulous 15 football player and his 100th win as a wrestler and Seth Phillis - Observer-Reporter Fabulous 15 & Class 2A All-State football
    • Mary Adams, WACTC Principal attended to present the first place winners of the SkillsUSA District 9 Competition: Nicole Durbin, Jacob Gibson, Mckenzie Huber, and Amber McClelland.  These kids will go on to compete at the state-level competition this spring.

    • Our chorus teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Elek, brought the middle school choir to perform.  Attending were: Timothy Auman, Molly Baker, Isabella Bender, Sara Brown, Kacie Curry, Bridgette Dye, Jaidan Gilbert, Kira Klingensmith, Ashlynn Kubatka, William Lemmon, Shannon McGivern, Aurora Monette, Olivia Quinones, Ella Steele, Lacey Streng, Davis Tajc, Angelina Torres, Elizabeth Walker, Mary Woodhouse, Alleah Worstell and Sean Yates.
       
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  • Happy New Year!

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/7/2020

    It's 2020!  New year's has always been a time for reflection and resolutions.  Did you make any?

    Here is some advice on setting goals for yourself.  Think of the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to help you set good goals for yourself.  Let me explain the acronym.  Your goal should be...

    S = specific - Be very clear with yourself on what you want to achieve.  For example, "I will earn an 85% or better in math this semester" is a apecific goal.  "I will get better in math" is not specific enough. 

    M = measureable - Include in your goal some way to measure your progress.  In the example above, 85% is measureable.  "I will lose 10 pounds" is measureable.  "Getting better" is not easily measureable, because you could use ancedotal evidence to measure yourself.  In other words, you want to improve your math score but use attendance as your measurement stick.  Being in class does not necessarily mean you got better in math.

    A = Attainable - Be sure you can do what you set for the goal.  Getting 100% in math might not be attainable, so 85% is a better goal.  Saying 70% is probably setting the bar too low.

    R = Relevant - Is the goal you've planned for yourself going to achieve something that matters?  Is it important or useful?  Is it realistic for you?

    T = Timebound - Your goal should say how long it will take or by when you will achieve the goal.  In the math example, "this semster" specifies the timeframe in which you will achieve the goal.

    Good luck with your S.M.A.R.T. goals for 2020.

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  • Outcomes Report is Ready

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/18/2019 6:00:00 AM

    Our Outcomes Report, an annual summary of student performance, is now available on our website.  Here is the link: Outcomes Report.

    You can be proud of some great gains in proficiency levels, particularly in English Language Arts and elementary science. 

    Math, on the other hand, is below state averages, and that is a concern.  Over the past eight months, we have zeroed-in on instruction and curriculum to determine what may be behind the struggles with math achievement.  We have already focused seven professional development days on math instruction and curriculum analysis; we will maximize every opportunity to improve achievement.  We have three more days in the works.  Judging from the level of engagement, I'd say there is a noticeable difference in student engagement.

    As you review the Outcomes Report, pay attention to the last few pages where we cite the many efforts our teachers and administrators are making to "remake learning" and achieve our mission: "education for a lifetime of achievement."  I extend my thanks to the administrators, department chairs and teachers for embracing the mission and the challenges to remake learning in Burgettstown.

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  • Thinking about safety

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/13/2019 9:15:00 AM
    Student safety has been an important part of the operation of the Burgettstown schools for many years. With an extensive renovations and alterations project to the Middle High School in 2012, the District focused on building and campus safety as an important part of the overall project. At that time, safety features such as a captured vestibule and internal security cameras were included in the design. The camera system was also added to the Elementary Center well after the building opened. In 2013, the Board of School Directors was approved for an armed school police department by the courts of Washington County.

    With previous safety grant awards, the district invested in replacing failing security cameras, door locks and two-way radios as well as safety "go-to" buckets and staff training in student assistance programming. Thanks to funding in the 2018 fiscal year, we were able to complete several modifications to the infrastructure to address some other safety needs. The biggest of which is the addition of a secury entry for the elementary.  that work should begin this winter.

    The latest “Pennsylvania Youth Survey” found some very concerning realities about our students and their state of well-being. Drug use has increased in the past three years. Marijuana use is up 50% among 12th graders, and prescription drug use has doubled since 2013. Students also report an uptick in the availability of controlled substances. We recognize more students are accepting risky behaviors, and this leads to poor decision-making and academic struggles. More alarming, there are striking increases in the percentage of our youth with developmental risks. According to the more recent findings of the “Pennsylvania Youth Survey,” 65% of our students are at risk for drug use, 55% are at risk for sensation seeking and 57% are at risk for a lack of commitment to school. These are significant problems threatening our safe and orderly school environment. The district recognizes the issues and wants desperately to provide necessary supports through research-based, time-tested interventions, such as the Student Assistance Program. 

    In terms of mental health, the same survey reports some deeply concerning trends among the Burgettstown students. 41% of the respondents report feeling depressed or sad on most days. 55% of 12th graders report feeling “no good at all.” Most alarming is the fact that 34% of 12th graders considered suicide. Clearly, our Burgettstown students are struggling. The District is using the results of the “Pennsylvania Youth Survey” as well as our own climate and discipline surveys, to determine our interventions.  We are providing training and support for additional teachers and counselors not yet trained in Student Assistance. We believe a robust and responsive Student Assistance Program will remove barriers for students in need to access the services and supports they require.

    Like many schools, we are deeply concerned about the student bullying reports and survey results. 22% of our students in 6th – 12th grade report having problem(s) with bullying in the past 12 months. Rachel's Challenge was presented to all students, staff and the greater Burgettstown community. We are confident the program can reduce our student-on-student conflicts.
     
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  • What are we working on (part 2)?

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/12/2019 7:20:00 AM

    Teachers in the Burgettstown Area School District will thrive in our schools, and with high quality, engaging instruction, they will inspire our students to new heights of success.  To ensure this for our teachers, we have been very purposeful and differentiated with our professional development according to these statements of intention:

    • If we extend the amount of time a teacher spends reflecting on teaching, and our leaders extend the amount of time they are personally committed to the growth and professional development of individuals, then our teachers will feel well-supported, experience more success in the classroom and therefore more committed to our students.
    • If we anchor the professional development calendar on the evidence from the teachers' PD survey, walk-through and achievement data, then we will provide an professional growth program and a pathway for each teacher to meet success.
    • With the mentoring initiative in Singapore as our guide, if we develop the leadership skills and the relationship-building techniques of our teachers, and if we develop a opportunities within the day, then the relationship between the teacher and students will be more supportive, attentive and productive.
    • Using our own walk-through and evaluation data as well as teacher reflections as a guide, if we provide appropriate and effective professional development based on the data, then our teachers will demonstrate the skills and abilities of mastery teaching as evidenced by the levels of student engagement and achievement.  Furthermore, if principals use the same data to identify areas of need for each novice teacher, then we can select appropriate professional development for each inductee to address these areas of need.  Further., if we require a teaching portfolio with evidence and reflections of a three-year journey of professional growth, then our teachers will be reflective, career-long learners, continually seeking professional growth opportunities available.

    Ultimately, if we sustain our focus on our new teachers and mentors this deeply over ten years, we will change the culture of the system, and truly meet the needs of our learners, making them more ready for their world.

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  • What an Honor

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/11/2019 10:00:00 AM

    I was overwhelmed by the Veteran's Day service here at the Elementary Center.  Kudos to Mr. Rendulic, the ESALT students and Mrs. Mankey for organizing such a wonderful program.  And special thanks to the veterans in the group who continue to serve, and the three who serve our district: Mr. Schuler from the bus garage, Officer Motte, our police officer, and Mr. Buchanan, bus driver and cafeteria monitor. 

    To me, the wall of honor (pictured below) is amazing.  Students could contribute a bio for a relative who served our country in the armed forces.  My picture does not do it justice; there are are dozens and dozens of service men and women with amazing records, and with whom Burgettstown is tightly connected and positively impacted.  To the vets on our wall, thank you for your service!

    Wall of Honor

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  • Powerful

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/8/2019 11:00:00 AM

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