• 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 of the difficult circumstances which hinder a great society, is not easy to reach, but here 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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  • Public Schools are a Vital Enterprise

    Posted by James Walsh on 4/6/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Some of America’s vital enterprises are best served in the public sector.  School is one of them.

    A few thoughts from Jamie Vollmer. Once a harsh critic, Vollmer has become an articulate friend of America’s public schools. He encourages educators, business leaders, and community groups to work together to build successful schools. 

    “Our job is not to prepare students for something.  Our job is to prepare students for everything.”

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  • Growth in our Growth Mindset

    Posted by James Walsh on 4/3/2018 8:00:00 AM

    We continue to believe confidently in our potential.  Our focus and dedication to a growth mindset is paramount to our firm belief in the future of Burgettstown.  While acknowledging the effects that economic or social disparities have on student achievement, a recent study finds that students with particular mindsets -- such as growth mindset and the ability to define motivation in daily life -- outperformed students without those mindsets in every global region.1

    Over the course of this year, our faculty has examined research like that, along with the work of Carol Dweck through the Mindset Works program.  We now see tangible evidence in their classrooms.  We look excitedly into the future when the teachers can bring this same level of understanding and appreciation to our students.  Accordingly, we realize success comes from a growth mindset coupled with effort and commitment.  We also know “Failure has to be an option. No important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk,” says James Cameron, filmmaker.  We want our students to have confidence in their abilities, take risks, face defeat, dust themselves off and try again.

    1  How to improve student educational outcomes: New insights from data analyticsMcKinsey & Company

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  • Lecture Series reminder...

    Posted by James Walsh on 3/29/2018 8:00:00 AM

    I posted recently about our "lecture series" entitled "Keeping you Company" at the Burgettstown Community Library.  The District Administrators has 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 for the remaining sessions.  Join the conversations!

    April 4

    6:30 pm



    “The Power of a Growth Mindset”

    - Jacqueline Good burn, Director of Staff Development


    April 11

    6:30 pm


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

    - Michele Burton, Supervisor of Special Education

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  • Status Check on our Mapping Project

    Posted by James Walsh on 3/27/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Three years ago, the District embarked on an ambitious plan to completed rewrite our curriculum into a curriculum mapping system called Atlas.  With  just a couple of months left on our timeline, I am pleased and proud to report we are generally on schedule with our curriculum mapping project.  There are teachers working diligently on every course and good progress is being made.  You should know this is the key piece of the District’s Strategic Plan.  As educators, we understand and value the necessity of having a comprehensive and articulated curriculum from the first days of Kindergarten to the final days of twelfth grade.  Moreover, this was an ideal opportunity to take the time to reflect on our courses, making the best of every opportunity to infuse the best, most up-to-date thinking we have into our curriculum.  To reinforce our primary objective and affirm our commitment of professional development time, I have listed below a brief summary of the rationale on which this project is built. 

    1. EFFICACY: Evidence suggests schools which show growth and/or improvement have a coherent, articulated curriculum for every course of study.
    2. RESPECT: Curriculum is a teacher’s life blood. It contains a comprehensive and thoughtful road map to follow when teaching a course. It requires constant reflection and revision to stay current and accurate. Without a curriculum guide, a teacher can lose focus or teach from happenstance. The map honors and preserves our teachers’ best thinking about our curriculum.
    3. ALIGNMENT: Class time is precious! Curriculum maps close the missing gaps and eliminate needless repetitions in a student’s K-12 program of study. We need time for those revisions and improvements.
    4. POSTERITY: Curriculum maps assure continuity and institutional memory for the future.
    5. FOCUS: Our framework for the maps, Understanding by Design, forces a constant focus on big ideas and the essential questions upon which a course is built. Teachers will not get bogged-down with the minute trivia of curriculum, a natural but ineffective tendency. (Remember, in this era of educational advancement, when a student can Google the answer, you are probably asking the wrong )
    6. MAXIMIZE and CONCENTRATE EFFORTS: Once the maps are completed well, quality time can be spent with teachers analyzing the curriculum, working to integrate curriculum, developing new resources and assessments. This use of time honors the expertise of our teachers.
    7. ACCOUNTABILITY: Careful alignment through the Atlas system will bring absolute clarity to when and how our students are meeting the standards.
    8. ACCOUNTABILITY: We can eliminate the perpetual student “permission to forget,” when we fail to realize our kids should already know something we have in our curriculum. This evidence will be at teachers’ fingertips.
    9. NECESSITY: Schools are faced with a rapidly changing culture from which our students are coming and a future into which they will go. To ensure their success, we must stay current with educational research and change, infusing the best educational thinking into our curriculum.
    10. EFFICIENCY: A comprehensive, well-written map will replace the need for lesson plans from a seasoned teacher.
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  • Greatness

    Posted by James Walsh on 3/21/2018 12:00:00 PM

    “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

    Each and every day in Burgettstown, I find students who dare to be great.  They commit themselves deeply into their passions, be it academics, like AP courses or foreign languages; competitive academic clubs like the Science Fair or Mock Trial; or athletics, like the volleyball or track.  My pride was deepened by the impressive students who organized the walk-out to demonstrate quite profoundly the critical need for attention to school safety.  All of these passionate students have shown us time and again their readiness for the world. By them, I am reminded of baseball great Roberto Clemente’s words, “Accomplishment is something you cannot buy. If you have a chance and don't make the most of it, you are wasting your time on this earth.”

    If you have not yet found a passion which captures your every interest and attention, just wait.  Continue to explore new things.  Be welcoming of new ideas and new people as they may reveal your own potential.  Do not succumb to the culture of social loafing.  The world will continue to turn and time will evolve with you or without your help.  Remember: your greatness is the fruit of YOUR toil and sacrifice and high courage.

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, Writer

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