• Doubling-down on our educational improvement efforts

    Posted by James Walsh on 10/23/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Here are some of our big ideas for this school year:

    1. We will finish writing our curriculum maps. This has already been a three-year effort to capture our taught curriculum into the Atlas system.  Once we have that finished, we can finally run the analytic features of the Atlas system to identify our gaps and overlaps.  I have a strong suspicion there are some glaring issues waiting to be uncovered.  Curriculum is our lifeblood: it guides our daily planning and keeps us on the road to achievement.  Without a map, a journey would be fraught with wrong turns and wasted time.  At best, the journey without a good map would be random.  We must be very intentional with our instructional time, and a good map will make that possible.  This will be the year to ensure our curriculum maps are great maps.  It is also a perfect opportunity to think carefully about what we are teaching, finding ways to improve our instructional practices and infuse our curriculum with 21st Century skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creative thinking, and effective communication.  The key here is to be very intentional.
    2. We will refine our elementary reading instruction through a partnership with the United2Read program. This is a large grant-funded program to support teachers with intense professional development and useful data to target reading instruction and intervention tied directly to our core reading program.  In this first year of a three-year program, we will have as many as 7 professional development sessions.  The focus will be on Kindergarten and first grade.  We will add a second grade next year and third grade the year after that.  Over the three years, United2Read intends to measure the impact of these practices, and we intend to celebrate all students reading on level.
    3. We will continue to provide impactful professional development. We recognize the power of a great teacher on student engagement and achievement, and so we will plan (and support) professional development experiences to help all of our teachers reach their next best.  When teachers recognize and employ innovative, creative and/or engaging practices, then all students benefit.  President Theodore Roosevelt said, “We must dare to be great, and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.”  In Burgettstown, we dare our teachers to be great – to be masterful.  We also recognize and accept with our teachers the hard work and sacrifices needed to achieve greatness.  We stand ready to support them in this mission.
    4. We will continue to demonstrate the power of a growth mindset, and we will help our students make the same discovery. After a year of self-study, I am confident the teachers and administrators are keenly aware of the effect positive thinking and applying positive thinking to your efforts will achieve new heights.  I truly believe this connection is the key to our success.
    5. We are set for Pennsylvania’s Future Ready Index to roll-out this fall. This replaces the School Performance Profile.  It is intended to be a more robust system of measurements which describe a school’s performance in this 21st  The usual aspects of a school report card are there: PSSA and Keystone scores, attendance and graduation rates, all disaggregated by sub-groups.  Added to the Future Ready PA Index will be measures of college and career readiness, ways to measure the numbers of students on-track with math and reading, as well as indicators of a rigorous course of study available to all students.  I suppose there has to be some kind of system to report on a school’s outcomes.  I just hope this Future Ready PA Index is not overly complicated and/or contrived, nor should it suggest these measures are the only things that matter in a student’s educational journey.

    This is just the beginning; there is so much we want to do.  There is so much potential here.

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  • "Re-Posting" a Message from PennDot

    Posted by James Walsh on 8/24/2018 8:00:00 AM

    School Bus Clip Art

    “Our lives are filled with distractions, but we simply must put them aside and focus on the road ahead when we get behind the wheel,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “Even a momentary distraction – especially around school buses and in school zones -- can lead to tragedy.”

    Motorists approaching a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended are required to stop in all directions at least 10 feet from the bus. The only exception to the law is when a school bus is stopped on the opposite side of a highway clearly separated by a divider, such as concrete barriers or grass medians. Even in this situation, motorists should remain watchful of students trying to cross the road to catch the bus.

    If convicted of violating Pennsylvania’s school bus stopping law, drivers face a $250 fine, five points on their driving record and a 60-day license suspension.

    Students are also exposed to traffic while waiting for buses or walking to the bus stop or school. Motorists are reminded to be cautious and alert when approaching a school bus stop and to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.  

    In addition to watching for school buses, motorists should be alert in school zones, which become hubs of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Motorists are required to slow down to the posted speed limit of 15 mph in school zones. If convicted, violators face a fine and three points on their driving record.

    For more information on Pennsylvania’s school bus stopping law, school bus safety tips and programs, visitwww.penndot.gov/safety, then click “School Bus Safety” under “Traffic Safety and Driver Topics.” 

     

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  • More Summertime Learning

    Posted by James Walsh on 7/25/2018 4:00:00 PM

    In my last post, I told you about some of the books I have been reading this summer.  While telling you how much I liked Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question, I suggested his ideas change the currency of today's economy from knowing all the answers to developing the right questions.  This curiosity fosters innovation and growth more than mastery of content.  For schools therefore, if we have more curious students, we now know we have a better chance to help them achieve. 

    This lead me to read Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart.  Ritchhart went about finding ways to increase thinking skills - deep thinking - and offers some important ideas from his work.  The culture of your classroom is the key to fostering critical thinking.  He describes the ideal culture in much detail.  How, therefore, will such a classroom look and sound differently?  Here are some observable signs according to Ritchhart:

    1. There is good communication between and among students & teacher.  Everyone feels safe and empowered to ask questions, challenge ideas and contribute to the learning.
    2. Everyone is actively listening, asking questions.  No one is passively sitting unengaged by the objectives of the class.
    3. Everyone’s input is valued and respected - ideas, questions, curiosities.  It's okay to look, act or sound smart.
    4. Students are not dependent on the teacher all the time.
    5. There is constant questioning & probing of ideas.
    6. The classroom is learning-oriented, not work oriented or task-driven (Passing out a packet to do quietly is an epic mistake).
    7. The teacher is the lead learner, not just a giver of knowledge.  He/She models curiosity, an inquisitive nature.
    8. Students are engaged versus compliant.  They are not outsiders of the knowledge but authentically engaged in the knowledge and skills.
    9. Students genuinely seek understanding, and the teacher measures understanding, not the acquisition of knowledge.  
    10. Think time is promoted, not “wait time."  That means students doing more or doing it faster is not better and multitasking is a myth.  Teachers must help students manage the energy needed to succeed, not just time.

    Most of all, the thinking it takes to reach a conclusion or make a prediction or answer a question is discussed and reflected upon.  Everyone understands how to think and can.

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  • Summertime Learning

    Posted by James Walsh on 7/13/2018 4:00:00 PM

    Things are busy as usual in the summer, but the longer nights and vacation time have afforded me the chance to actively read some great books on education and leadership.  Let me share some ideas I gained.

    Ted Dintersmith’s What Schools Could Be is an insightful look into schools and teachers across the country who are having remarkable success with innovative ideas and programs.  Not all of the ideas or programs are replicable in our schools, but the inspiration, energy and opportunity that are leveraged to achieve the innovation are very inspiring.  I believe we are on the same path in Burgettstown.  We have plenty of examples of innovative ideas and teachers making a difference in our schools.  I am so proud of our teachers who are trying different strategies or approaches to engaging students in learning.  You are our own shining example of what schools could be (or already are!)

    I am also loving Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.  He asks, “Is knowing obsolete?”  That is to say, what adults need to know and be able to do have changed so much in our lifetime, schools cannot change fast enough.  In the past, the powerful “captains of industry” were the ones with all the knowledge.  Now is it the ones asking the right questions with all the power.  It is true asking questions makes you feel like you have ceded power in a situation, but with constant change in the world today, those who are most successful are those skilled in the questioning mode: adapting, re-creating, refining old ideas, re-examining priorities, seeking new creative outlets.  In our times, the ability to ask big, meaningful questions and - just as importantly - what to do with those questions gives the advantage.  In a time when so much of what we know is subject to revision or obsolescence (think Blockbuster) the comfortable / confident experts must go back to being restless, skeptical learners.

    I’m working on Tuesday Morning Coach and Creating Cultures of Thinking,  I’ll post again soon with some impressions of these two books.

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  • Best Wishes to the Class of 2018

    Posted by James Walsh on 6/8/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Graduates, I send you my most sincere wishes of congratulations on the occasion of your high school graduation. I am truly proud of you.

    Your educational journey has been challenging, but you have won in the end.  You have passed enough of your vocabulary quizzes and current events check-ups.  You completed job shadows and Keystones.    You ran the mile many times.  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.  However difficult the journey, it is time to celebrate, because you have reached a significant and impressive milestone.

    I truly marvel at your accomplishments!  Whether it was on the playing field, classroom or stage, you accepted the challenges and performed quite well and most honorably.  Win or lose, your competitive spirit and commitment was the key to earning our pride.  To all of the athletes, scholars, musicians, actors, competitors among the Class of 2018, I honor you.  You have made your mark on Burgettstown, and it will not be easily forgotten.

    Thank you Class of 2018 for your service to the school and community.  Your charity, your blood drives, your service have made Burgettstown a little bit better, and we thank you.  Like paying $20 for a bag of Doritos and a bottle of Pepsi at the holiday auction, please keep that spirit of selfless giving going in whatever experiences you will encounter.  You made a difference to us, as it can again and again wherever you go.

    Sitting around you tonight are some of your closest and best friends.  Friends are gold, always shining through for you and you for them.  I will point out that, together, you and your friends are a powerful force for good.  Together, you have solved many problems, overcome many obstacles, and made each other feel more powerful together.  No doubt, you had your share of mistakes, too. But continue to remind each other, mistakes are a fact of life; it is how you respond to the error that counts.  So, as you now travel onward from Burgettstown to other places in this world, be it college or a job or the military, always keep with you the connections to your friends.  Use that powerful force for good.  Together, you can change your world.

    You will always have the special significance of being the 100th class to graduate from this institution.  Congratulations is also due to the greater Burgettstown community for supporting 100 years of educational achievements for children in this community and for encouraging all of our youth to be their very best selves as they represent this community in the world.

    The Washington Rotary is celebrating their 100th anniversary also.  One of the long-standing members of the Washington Rotary, was Mr. Charles Keller.  His law firm, Peacock Keller, might be familiar to many of you who have been around Washington County for a while.   Serving as International President of the Rotary fifty years ago, Mr. Keller and his international colleagues decided to make eradicating polio a key focus of the Rotary’s service work.  In their first year of service toward this mission, the International Rotary raised close to a quarter of a billion dollars to fund research against Polio.  As we all know, the Rotary did reach their goal of almost complete eradication of this debilitating disease thanks to the work of another famed Pittsburgher, Dr. Jonas Salk.  Here’s the thing.  The Rotary JUST DECIDED TO DO THIS.  What an amazing example of the power of a growth mindset.  When you believe you can do something and you work hard at it, YOU CAN ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS.  Of course, I know it was a lot of people who did this, not just Mr. Keller or Dr. Jonas Salk, but the belief the Rotarians had in their collective potential is a powerful example to all of us this many years later. 

    To the Class of 2018, take the message from the Rotary, Mr. Keller and Dr. Salk.  Remember your potential is boundless if you believe in yourself, commit to your goals and work really hard despite hardships and setbacks.  Create quite a legacy for the 100th graduating class.

    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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  • On Tori, Mr. Keller, The Rotary and Dr. Salk

    Posted by James Walsh on 5/30/2018 1:00:00 PM

    Tori AT Rotary Luncheon

    Here’s a proud moment for Victoria Carnes from the Burgettstown Middle / High School Class of 2018.  She was at W & J yesterday to collect her Rotary Scholastic Achievement Scholarship.  Tori is headed to Westminster to study medicine on her way to be a cardiologist or oncologist.  We are most proud of Tori and all of her classmates in the Senior Class of 2018 for their amazing achievements as students in Burgettstown.  You have made us so very proud.  We wish all of you the very best for a bright, successful future.

    At the same Rotary Awards Luncheon, Rich Podgurski, the Washington Rotary President reminded us of the 100-year anniversary of the Washington Rotary.  How coincidental, because Tori and the rest of the Class of 2018 are the 100th Class of Burgettstown / Union High School.  Congratulations to the Rotary on their Centennial, and the same goes to the greater Burgettstown community for supporting 100 years of educational achievements for children in this community by way of paying your school taxes, being involved in the school community and for encouraging all of our youth to be their very best selves as they represent this community in the world.

    I was struck by another fact I heard at the luncheon.  Charles Keller, a founding partner of Peacock Keller and Ecker, LLP, who recently passed away after a long, happy and productive life, was an International President of the Rotary Club.  (Side note: His firm serves as the Solicitors for the Burgettstown Area School District.)  While serving as International President fifty years ago, Mr. Keller and his international colleagues decided to make eradicating polio a key focus of the Rotary’s service work.  In their first year of service toward this mission, the International Rotary raised close to a quarter of a billion dollars to fund research against Polio.  As we all know, the Rotary did reach their goal of almost complete eradication of this debilitating disease thanks to the work of another famed Pittsburgher, Dr. Jonas Salk.  Here’s the thing.  The Rotary JUST DECIDED TO DO THIS.  What an amazing example of the power of a growth mindset.  When you believe you can do something and you work hard at it, YOU CAN ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS.  Of course, I know it was a lot of people who did this, not just Mr. Keller or Dr. Salk, but the belief the Rotarians had in their collective potential is a powerful example to all of us this many years later. 

    To Tori and the rest of the Class of 2018, take the message from the Rotary, Mr. Keller and Dr. Salk.  Remember your potential is boundless if you believe in yourself, commit to your goals and work really hard despite hardships and setbacks.  Congratulations and best wishes for an amazing future.  Create quite a legacy for the 100th graduating class.

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  • Votes of Significance

    Posted by James Walsh on 5/15/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Last night was another great meeting of the Board of School Directors.  Not only did we honor two outstanding groups of student performers, but also the Board took several key actions to advance the needs of the school district.

    First up was to honor our boys basketball program for the 16-8 season, including a playoff win and slot in the PIAA tournament, the first in a long time.  Two plays were also honored for their selection to the “all section team.”  Equally impressive was the next group: the cast of “Into the Woods,” our spring musical.  The Seniors in attendance performed a beautiful song from the show, reminding us how important our role is as educators.

    One of the big decisions by the Board was to approve the replacement of our Student Information System.  This is the software to keep track of student records, grades, attendance, discipline and so on.  We have been using MMS for many years.  With the board’s approval, we are switching to ALMA.  ALMA the advantages of ALMA are threefold:

    • A more robust teacher and student interface with more useful data presented in a “dashboard” style format;
    • A smooth interface with Google Classroom, so the teachers will enter assignments in only one place;
    • A strong “backend” of the system where all of our PIMS reports can be easily exported for submission to PDE.

    Another important decision was to approve a proposed final budget for public display.  Here are the highlights:

    • The final budget seeks $20,307,205 in revenue with $20,307,205 in expenses. This is an increase of $1,822,915 over last year’s total expenditures, including debt service;
    • The budget requires 11.822 mils in local taxes with $6,368,878 from an estimated state subsidy. The subsidy is estimated to increase by $26,072;
    • There is the expectation for Ready to Learn block grant money in our revenue. (We are able to use approximately $101,000 this year toward salaries.)
    • Contractual obligations for teacher salaries increase by $243,225. Support staff salaries increase by $41,175.68;
    • Blue Cross / Blue Shield require a 6% increase, which is $215,220. Dental insurance will increase 2.5%;
    • Retirement contributions to PSERS are increasing $152,330. The current rate added .86%;
    • There is one teacher retirement and one administrator retirement, which will reduce payroll and benefits;
    • Our Title I & II allocation is also expected to be reduced next year;
    • Western Area CTC is estimated to be $290,655. Any expected refund from 2017-18 costs will support the roof project.  Our share for this year is $24,892.

    Finally, the Board also agreed to a proposal from Aramark to be our Food Service Management Company, setting up operations as of July 1.  We are optimistic Aramark will maintain or increase quality and service leading to an increase in participation.

    I remain impressed and grateful to our Board for making these decisions and, at the same time, faithfully supporting the efforts of the administrative team as we seek to provide an “Education for a Lifetime of Achievement.”

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  • In Appreciation for our Purple Cows

    Posted by James Walsh on 5/8/2018 8:40:00 AM

    “We must dare to be great, and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” 

    - Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US president

     

    This week we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.  I am excited to honor the critical role teachers’ play in the success of a school, because in Burgettstown, we are rich with the great teachers.  Dave Burgess, in his book Teach Like a Pirate calls them Purple Cows.  Unlike ordinary brown cows, purple cows are special.  Purple cows are memorable, too, long after the bell rings.  We’ve all had them, purple cows: teachers who made a difference for us.  We will remember our purple cows forever, because of the influence they had on our development.  It is our purple cows, our excellent teachers, who will make the difference for each and every student who calls himself or herself Blue Devil Proud.

    There is a mountain of research to support the assertion teachers are the #1 factor in the success of a school.  Great teachers are well prepared, innovative and evocative, creative and tireless in pursuit of the “ah-ha!” moments.  I do not wish to be trite, but great teachers change lives – lots of them.  Every day, teachers establish powerful relationships with their students to open their minds and hearts to the wonderment of learning.  A child, who comes to school despite some or many difficult circumstances, is not easy to reach, but in school they are like a soft piece of clay.  Great teachers embrace that shapeless clay and masterfully plan an agenda for learning that includes enticing experiences, but challenging at the same time, thereby molding the clay into a unique treasure.  Great teachers hold high expectations for students, but provide support and guidance in order for all students to reach those expectations.  Great teachers are performance artists, who combine the art and science of teaching into memorable, life changing experiences.  I am so very thankful for the great teachers, the purple cows, here in Burgettstown.

    What we know to be great teaching has changed so much since I was trained, not all of it good, by the way.  The high-stakes accountability movement has radically changed schools and the day-to-day work of a teacher.  There is now a laser-like focus on student achievement, and a teacher’s evaluation is directly tied to his/her students’ scores.  This leaves little room for ingenuity, tangential learning nor unbridled curiosity.

    Technology and the internet have also changed teaching, generally for the good.  We do not see overhead projectors or chalk anymore, but we see virtual field trips,  augmented reality bringing curriculum to life, maker spaces for modeling, experimenting and creating understanding.  There are really cool tools for engaging students and improving their learning experience.  Teaching is not the same as it was 28 years ago when I started, and it will surely be different in the next 28.  It is my job as Superintendent to keep our District and all of the great teachers out in front of the changes.  With supportive administrators, solid professional development and the firm backing of our Board of School Directors, we will continue to be rich with excellent teachers, our purple cows.  Thank you, teachers, for being great!

    Teacher appreciation image

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  • May Madness

    Posted by James Walsh on 5/1/2018 8:00:00 AM

      image of a basketball and hoop.  

    It's the first of May.  

    We've all heard of March Madness, the time associated with the NCAA basketball playoffs.  Here in Burgettstown, and probably most school systems across the Commonwealth, are entering their own version of March Madness.  We'll call it May Madness.

    The school calendar is waning quickly toward summer vacation, and so the students remind us the year's end is near by their actions and energies.

    The calendar is full of important activities and events to celebrate the end of another productive school year, culminated by graduating the Class of 2018.

    Do not get distracted by the madness.  Stay focused on your best "game."  Give each day your best effort and energies.  Be a closer and finish the game with a powerful statement by your accomplishments and abilities.

    Before long, it will be the first of summer and the game changes.

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  • Long Live the Crown!

    Posted by James Walsh on 4/26/2018 10:00:00 AM

    Today is the “Elizabethan Faire” at the Middle / High School.  English Department veteran, Ann Marler, collaborates with her colleagues to stage a fully integrated day of learning activities centered on a common theme: the renaissance.  This has been a valued and meaningful tradition for many years.  Not only are students well-festooned in period costumes and surrounded by merry minstrels, but they are also immersed in interesting learning activities within spaces completely decorated in the colors and images of the times.  Clearly, teachers go “all in” for this day and the students eat it up.

    To me, the Elizabethan Faire represents the best ideas of a great education.  Students are fully engaged.  Teachers are collaborating across disciplines.  The activities are hands-on and linked to a big idea or essential question.  Above all, the learning is fun.

    Bravo to Mrs. Marler and all of the teachers involved for showing us the breadth and depth of great teaching.  I know it is a significant amount of work, but wouldn't it be great if we had more days like this tied to our curriculum?  Where could the math curriculum or science curriculum take us next?

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