• Finally!

    Posted by James Walsh at 9/28/2017 2:00:00 PM

    student artwork

    We are on day #22 of the new school year, and our hallways are finally filling with great student work.  Through the summer, as the schools are cleaned and scrubbed, I really miss seeing student work on the walls and in the display cases.  In my walk-through today, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing our talented student work back on display.  Pictured above are samples of pop art from the Studio Art classes and below are 4th grade depictions of a growth mindset, a must for any successful student.  Many thanks for Mr. Roth and Ms. Fulgenzio for the productivity.

    Student work on display

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  • Most Likely to Succeed

    Posted by James Walsh at 9/5/2017 8:00:00 AM

    The district has been privileged to host a screening of the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed.”  We showed some of our faculty the film and now welcome the community to a screening on September 6 at 6:30 pm in the M/HS L.G.I.  Will you join us for the film and a follow-up discussion?

    “Most Likely to Succeed” is a thought-provoking documentary feature film that reveals the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today's innovative world.  The film explores compelling new approaches that aim to revolutionize education as we know it, inspiring school communities to re-imagine what students and teachers are capable of doing (MLTS.org).

    As Superintendent, I take seriously our mission to provide “education for a lifetime of achievement.”  As the film suggests from the on-set, the students of Burgettstown are facing a lifetime of innovation and change.  How we travel, work, shop, play and compete is advancing every day.  On top of that, some of the once-safe jobs are now replaced by sophisticated automation.  In order for our students to be prepared for these complexities, I have encouraged (and celebrated) teachers to break the traditional mold of learning, to provide thought-provoking challenges, to encourage academic struggles.  Our new Strategic Plan has an entire goal dedicated to this.  We will strive to facilitate learning so our students will be challenged to be creative, collaborative, communicative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers.  The film celebrates those kinds of teachers and that kind of thinking. 

    Some may find fault with the film.  It celebrates charter schools, which live by a different set of rules than we do.  It devalues a rich core curriculum.  It requires a self-motivation and self-discipline in students unseen in most schools.  All are true.  To be clear, we are not seeking to be “High Tech High,” as featured in the film, but we cannot ignore the first stark fifteen minutes of the film.  All of those statistics are true, too.  So, the question becomes, what will Burgettstown do about it?

    We invite the conversation.  We invite the ideas and innovation.  Will you join us?

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  • Research to back me up

    Posted by James Walsh at 8/7/2017 7:30:00 AM

    I am in the midst of a series of blog posts about the power of a growth mindset.  My series continues with this entry.

    There is some solid reasearch to back-up the claims about the power of a growth mindset.  Consider these.  

    In a study of seventh graders…

    ...all of the students in the study had very similar records in elementary school;

    ...Carol Dweck measured student mindsets to identify who had a growth mindset and who had a fixed mindset;

    ...followed them for two years, the middle school years: the more challenging years of life;

    ...students with the fixed mindset showed a decline in performance - worse and worse over two years;

    ...students with a growth mindset showed an increase in performance over the same period;

    …fixed mindset students developed phrases such as: ”I suck at math” and “My teacher hates me” as a way to justify their performance.

    ...growth mindset students saw school as a time of opportunity, a time to learn new subjects, a time to find out what they like and what they want to be in the future.

    In another study, Benjamin Bloom (famous for Bloom's Taxonomy) studied 120 high achievers…

    …concert pianists, world class tennis players, Olympic swimmers, research neurologists and mathematicians.

    ...most were found to be unremarkable as children;

    ...did not show clear talent until their training began in earnest;

    ...even by early adolescence, you still could not predict their future accomplishments from their current abilities.

    He asserts, "After 40 years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

    In another examination of growth mindsets, Blackwell & Dweck (2007)...

    ...hosted a workshop for adolescents on the brain and study skills;

    ...half of them (the control group) were taught about the stages of memory;

    ...the other half received training on growth mindset - how the brain grows with learning - and how to apply this to their schoolwork.

    ...three times as many students in the growth group increased in effort and engagement as compared with the control group;

    ...after the training, the control group continued to show declining grades, but the growth-mindset group showed a clear rebound in their grades.

    It is interesting to note, the girls who received the growth mindset training narrowed the gender gap in math.

    Growth mindset has been receiving scientific confirmation from cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists like Ramsen, et al (2011)...

    ...they have tracked students during teenage years...

    ...using neuroimaging, they found corresponding changes in the density of neurons in relevant areas of the brain for these students…

    ...when I.Q. test performance has increased, the number of neuron connections had increased...  

    ...meaning, the brain can get smarter!

    So... Here are the impactful conclusions from all these mindset studies:

    • Students perform better in school when they and their teachers believe that intelligence is not fixed, but can be developed.
    • Teaching students that intelligence can be “grown” is especially powerful for students who belong to typically stereotyped groups.
    • Growth mindsets focus on effort and motivate students to overcome challenging work.



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  • What are the hallmarks of a growth mindset?

    Posted by James Walsh at 7/31/2017 7:30:00 AM

    My past few blog entries have focused on the power of a positive, growth mindset.  I continue the series with answers to the question, What are the hallmarks of a growth mindset? Consider how you would rate yourself against these:

    • I believe my basic qualities are things I can cultivate through my efforts.
    • I am willing to stretching syself & take risks in my academic journey.
    • I will stick with something despite setbacks.
    • I would choose a competitive challenge over an easy win.
    • I often ask myself, “what did I learn from that experience, and how can I use it as a basis for growth?”
    • To me, education is about learning “how to” and “why.”
    • I crave constructive criticism. I appreciate teachers' helpful feedback, so I can learn from it.

    Even if you can't answer these affirmitively, you can still develop yourself and transform your thinking into a growth mindset.  Make this the year for you to transform!

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  • What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

    Posted by James Walsh at 7/24/2017 7:30:00 AM

    It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.” 

    This quote comes from Alfred Binet in 1910.  You might recognize his name from the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, better known as the I.Q. test.

    Isn't it fascinating that the guy who, way back in 1910, developed a system to measure your I.Q. also believed your intelligence is not actually fixed, that you can actually grow your intelligence.  He says, "Maintain a belief that with practice, persistence and patience, we can increase our attention, our memory, our judgment, and literally become more intelligent than we were before.”

    Is it surprising to you to know the growth mindset has been a long-standing fact of science?  Anyone can get better, smarter at something if you try. It is also important to point out that growth does not happen accidentally.  Binet says you must practice and persist at something to get better at it.

    As we approach the new school year, commit yourself to a growth mindset.  Believe in your capacity to grow your brain and commit to the practice and persistence necessary to make that growth. In school, just like life, success does not come easily; you will have to work for it.


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  • The Power of a Growth Mindset

    Posted by James Walsh at 7/19/2017 9:00:00 AM

    “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” -Anatole France, writer and journalist

    As we open another school year, our optimism and enthusiasm are at an all-time high.  With a new strategic plan to follow, and several years of technological and programmatic improvements behind us, we are in the best possible position to take our students to new and impressive heights.  All we need is everyone to return to school strongly believing in their ability to succeed.  There will be nothing to stop us!

    The theme to which we have tuned our work for this year is “harness the power of a growth mindset.” There is significant and compelling research to say human potential for growth is limitless.  This means we maintain a strong belief that “with practice, persistence and patience, we can increase our attention, our memory, our judgment, and literally become more intelligent than we were before.”  In other words, intelligence is something you have to work for; it isn’t just given to you. 

    Come to school everyday ready to focus, work hard, ask good questions and know your efforts will pay off.  One of the leading scholars on this topic of a growth mindset, Carol Dweck says, "Effort is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation; effort is the key to success."

    You can be absolutely sure of our best efforts to build ambitions students daily, and provide education for a lifetime of achievement.

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  • Notice of Opportunity Scholarships

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/19/2017 7:00:00 AM

    The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTCP) was created pursuant to Act 85 of 2012 and amended by Act 86 of 2016.  This program enables eligible students residing within the boundaries of low-achieving schools to apply for a scholarship to attend another public or nonpublic school. A low achieving school is defined as a public elementary or secondary school ranking in the bottom 15% of their designation as elementary or secondary school based on the combined math and reading scores on the previous school year PSSA.  Burgettstown Middle/High School is on the list of the bottom 15% for performance on the combined Math and Reading tests on the 2015-2016 PSSA and/or Keystone exams.

    Under the OSTCP program, Burgettstown Middle/High School must offer students the choice to transfer to another school district or nonpublic school. Please know that the staff at Burgettstown has a relationship with your child and wants to continue serving your child. However, if you feel your child will be better served in another school, you may request a transfer for your child to one of the schools participating in the OSTCP.

    This news is extremely disappointing for our students and staff, but it is also incredibly frustrating to suggest to others that our school is failing.  All of us who know our students do not believe that for a minute.  We see the history of success for our graduates.  We certainly know we have areas for improvement, but this is not a failing school.  Nonetheless, for 2015-16, our scores were low.  We know we can do better, and we will.

    If you wish to take advantage of this opportunity for your child to attend another school, you must go to the Department of Community and Economic Development website to review the list of scholarship organizations for the school districts and nonpublic schools that are participating in this program.  Additional information is available on the PA Dept of Ed Website, including the list of schools participating in this program.

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  • Sharing Her Thoughts on Leadership

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/15/2017 12:00:00 PM

    How to Recognize a Leader by

    How do you recognize who’s a leader? Is it the person telling everyone what to do? Not necessarily. If he is being ignored, he is only talking to himself.

    Is it the person giving directions? Telling people where to go? Not necessarily.

    An usher in the theater, who tells you which entrance to use, is not a leader. He is not influencing your course of action. He is just giving you information.

    A police officer directing traffic is not a leader. You might go where you’re told, but he has notinfluenced your point of viewA police officer, an usher, a dictator, a jailor . . . these are not leaders.

    How do you recognize a leader?

    It’s not by their location. A leader can be out in front, in the middle of the action, or pushing from behind.  

    You recognize a leader by the response of their followers.

    A leader is someone who influences others to follow a course of action when they have a choice.

    A leader is the person who says to others, “follow me!” And they do.

    A leader is the person who suggests, “I think this is the way to go.” And people go there.

    A leader is the person who takes action. And others join in.

    A leader is the person on the ball court who signals to throw the ball to them, and they do.

    A leader is the person who does something new and others begin to do it also.

    A leader has genuine followers, people who follow of their own volition.

    If a leader shouts in the woods and no one hears them, are they a leader? No.

    If you think you’re a leader and no one is following, you’re simply taking a walk. (Afghan Proverb)

    What if you have a few followers? Are you a leader?

    You leadership impact is measured by the percentage of followers within your sphere of influence.

    If you are leader of a ten-person team and only two of them follow you, you are not leading. To be a team leader, your sphere of influence must include your entire team.

    To lead an organization, your sphere of influence must encompass a “critical mass” –  a large enough percentage of the organization to tilt the balance.

    Leadership impact depends on your ability to influence people, not your ability to command, coerce or manipulate.

    Your leadership is measured, not by what people do when you’re there, but by what they do when you’re not present – when no one is watching and they have the freedom to make personal choices.

    Who do people follow when they have a choice?

    People follow leaders they trust.

    Leaders who articulate a vision they believe in.

    Leaders who seem to be competent and know what they are doing.

    Leaders whose character they respect.

    A person could have the title of president and not be a leader. But if you look closely, you can recognize who the real leaders are.  WE VALUE THE GREAT LEADERS AMONG US!


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  • Commencement

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/8/2017 9:00:00 AM

    Graduates 2017

    To the Class of 2017, I offer my most sincere congratulations.  

    Your educational journey has been challenging, but you have won in the end. Whatever academic, physical or mental challenge we could throw at you, you have accepted and conquered. Some of you even conquered some difficult personal challenges over the years.  You have learned by your hard work and perseverance there is no easy elevator to success, you had to take the stairs to get this far.  

    Thank you Class of 2017 for your service to the school and community.  Through your your blood drives, your charity fundraisers and your service, you have made Burgettstown a little bit better, and we thank you.  You made a difference to us, as it can again and again wherever you go.

    I wish you all the best for the future; continue to make us proud.  I thank you making for your mark in our history, and I wish you sincere congratulations on your graduation!

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  • The Magic Wand: The Mythology in the Administrator’s Role in Discipline and Accountability

    Posted by James Walsh at 5/26/2017 12:00:00 PM

    Modern teacher mythology holds a belief that school administrators are awarded a magic wand upon graduation from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  When wielded properly, the wand can be used effectively to make kids behave, be nice, be on time, be respectful, be remorseful and a whole bunch of other dreamy characteristics.  All one needs to do is send a referral to the administrator’s attention, and the power of the wand is at the ready.  A rhyming incantation, a snapping wave of the wand, and poof! Johnny Rotten is now Johnny Valedictorian.

    You laugh?  Not true, you say?  From where does the myth come, then, because in all my travels over two and a half decades in the business, I am convinced most teachers wholeheartedly believe the school administrator is capable of all of those things? 

    Sarcasm aside, the ugly truth is, administrators do not have any magic wand, or any degree from Hogwarts.  Quite simply, they have an authority granted by Commonwealth and the local Board of Education to uphold the state and local policies governing our students and programs.  The authority is positional, meaning, the power comes with the job.  To that end, the administrator does not have to be a brute squad or a ninja to succeed in the position.  All new administrators, regardless of physique and intimidating scowl, walk into their position with an authority and responsibility waiting for them, and maybe a warm glow of pride having earned a coveted position.  They also have a heaping, steaming pile of expectations waiting, too.  It does not take long for the glow to wear-off and the steaming pile to start to stink.  Here’s why.

    Because it is generally believed the administrator has magic powers to transform kids, teachers send all sorts of problems to the office looking for transformations.  The kid who is lazy is referred to the office because he forgot his materials four days in a row.  The child who is lackadaisical is referred to the office because her attendance is poor.  The mouthy child, the rambunctious child, the mischievous child are all sent to be transformed.  By transformed, I mean the child is sent away with the expectation he/she will be disciplined or consequence appropriately and returned somehow changed by the experience, so the problem(s) will not recur.  The expectation is a heavy burden for the administrator to carry, and it does not take long for the weight to bring him or her down.  This is because, generally speaking, school discipline does not transform a person.  I need only offer as evidence the current rates recidivism.

    Here’s another truth.  The administrator truly desires the ability to transform kids.  All educators do; that’s why we got into this business.  We all want to change student lives for the better through powerful, life-changing experiences.  Yet, when the discipline does not change behavior, the teacher and the administrator are surprised and frustrated – usually with each other, over and over again.  The charm has worn off and both teacher and administrator feel defeated on a regular basis.  Even worse, in most schools, the administrator is viewed as the sole disciplinarian with powers vested by virtue of the position, and teachers do not own student discipline.  It is also true some educators think the disciplinarian has to be “tough,” invoking fear into the hearts and minds of the students in order for the school to be safe and orderly.  In today’s school culture, all of these beliefs and practices are fundamentally flawed, and everyone’s frustration levels soar because of it.  Maybe in the old days when the administrator carried a paddle, fear was an effective management tool.  “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was Roosevelt’s belief.  Schools can’t say that anymore, can they?

    So what works to truly reduce discipline problems?  How can an administrator maintain a well-disciplined but productive student body and satisfy the teachers’ desire for meaningful, transformative consequences?  These are very basic questions, but the answers seem far out of reach.  Let’s look around the school to see if the answer is staring us in our exasperated face. 

    Ever hear a few teachers quietly admit, “He doesn’t act like that for me” or “She’s not like that at all in my class”?  He or She seems to say that year after year.  That same teacher sends precious few students to the office.  He / She seems to have kids flock to his or her room, and former students are back often to visit.  Take a close look.  Have they got this whole classroom management quagmire figured out?   Yes, they do!  The teachers we are thinking about has two important qualities organic to their classroom, and, as a result, has well-managed and productive students.  Here is a close look at the mysterious formula for classroom management success in hopes more can replicate it.  I onlywish I knew this years ago when I stated in education.

    The primary quality of the masterful teacher is his or her ability to build productive relationships with the students.  The masterful teacher understands how students need to feel in a classroom in order to be well-managed and productive.  Students cannot feel fear or ambiguity and still be in a good mindset to learn.  They need to feel safe and connected.  Students need to trust they will not be embarrassed, made to feel or look stupid, be ashamed of themselves in some way or another.  Moreover, having the right climate also means getting to know each kid personally in order to understand his or her motivations, preferences, inhibitions and their learning profiles.  Kids respond better to the teacher when they feel a connection and a sense of respect from the teacher.  When those connections are strong, the kid will move mountains to please the teacher.  Someday, kids will forget the stuff you taught them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

    There is no ambiguity, either, in the masterful teacher’s classroom.  Everyone who comes into the room will know what to expect from the teacher and understand what he / she expects from the students each and every day.  To that end, the masterful teacher will work hard to develop the right climate in the room.  It takes valuable class time to develop and mountains of patient consistency to maintain.  It is more than just posting a set of rules on the wall, too.  Classroom management means the teacher is patiently practicing and enforcing the rules.  This is evident every day, even days when nobody feels like it. 

    The masterful teacher has clear and consistent consequences for misbehavior, too.  When students stray from the path, the teacher acts quickly to straighten them back on the path.  Nothing gets by the teacher without some immediate and commensurate response from the repertoire of techniques.  On top of this, the successful teacher does not rely on the school administration to be the “heavy.” In fact, the school administrator will only see or hear discipline referrals from this teacher when a major school rule has been broken, or an insubordinate student is chronically detrimental the classroom culture. 

    Because the masterful teacher talks to parents often, particularly when a student is showing early signs of academic or behavioral troubles, the parents become a useful ally to the teacher.  Couple this alliance with the child’s adoration of the teacher, and there is a powerful force for good.  When the opposite is true we would have to wonder why the parents are defensive or overly reactive when challenging calls are made about their kid after things have gotten too bad.

    Consider the opposite example to make the point clearly.  In this fictional example, the teacher does not have any clear or consistent discipline or consequences.  The kids learn quickly the teacher has no authority and will simply threaten or holler as a means to maintain a thread of control.  Typically, the room functions in a transactional way: “you do this worksheet quietly, I will leave you alone.  Otherwise, I become angry and use all of my angry faces and voices to let you know how I am feeling.”  When someone is really bad, or the teacher tires of the yelling game, the offenders are sent to the office to be transformed.  The kids soon realize the administrator will issue the consequences, so fear and dread is found in the experience.  Alas!  The problems return when the fear subsides.  The student now understands he or she does not have to be good for the teacher; the teacher is not the disciplinarian.  While fictional, there may be kernels of truth.

    The other critical quality the masterful teacher fully understands is the relevance the curriculum should have in the students’ lives.   Students can easily recognize individual lessons as building blocks in the “castles” of achievement being constructed, and how living in the castle will make a difference in life.  In the construction process, the successful teacher makes every instructional minute count; there is no busy work or learning packet to keep the class quiet while the teacher gets caught up at his or her desk.  Moreover, the lessons and assignments are customized to match the students’ academic needs and personal interests.  Kids in this room recognize the work as challenging and firmly believe they can meet it.  At the same time, the lessons and assignments are also fun.  That is to say, the same motivation which brings the avid fan to the New York Times Sunday Crossword brings the kids to rise up to meet the challenges a masterful teacher can devise.  The bottom line is this: when a student recognizes value in the learning and believes she can do it, she will be invested and will work tirelessly to achieve.  Even better, misbehavior is rare.

    Consider another opposite example.  This teacher has strict rules; students are scared into compliance.  The rare offender is caught violating a rule and sent to the office for immediate intervention.  It is highly unlikely the students are really learning anything in the classroom.  It is probably quiet.  Students are compliant, but without emotional connections, nothing is being retained in long term memory.  They are not learning.

    The masterful teacher works thoughtfully and consistently to make the curriculum relevant and activities meaningful while building productive relationships with the students and families.  Therein lies one more truth.  The masterful teacher has to work harder and plan really well to ensure the relationships and relevance are there. Masterful teachers look at the work as an investment paying a variety of dividends.  They do cling to the idealistic, quick fix of the administrator’s mythical magic wand.

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