The Outcomes Report with No OutcomesPosted by James Walsh on 10/15/2020
It is about this time I am rolling out the district’s Outcomes Report. This comprehensive report presents the best and worst of our performance over the previous year. This year, I’ve got nothing. There were no Keystones or PSSAs. A few SAT scores, yes, but nothing significant to report. The only highlight was the impressive performance put on by the advanced placement students. They tested remarkably well on some rigorous courses. Kudos to all!
Our (new) FocusPosted by James Walsh on 10/12/2020
Throughout the year of COVID-19, our primary goal is: to deliver a quality educational experience to all families, in-school and at home, in a way that minimizes exposure and disruption to the extent possible. The key components of our reopening plan included: (1) safe schools for students and staff, (2) choice for families, (3) high-quality education (in-school or remote) and (4) emphasis on social-emotional well-being. We continue to work collaboratively on all of those components with PDE, the IU, the county and the PA Department of Health. And we continue to understand the changing circumstances and facts related to this pandemic. At the same time, we also fully recognize the importance of offering more in-person learning in order to meet the academic as well as social/emotional needs of our students. I remain impressed by and grateful for the efforts of our students, families, faculty, staff and the administrators to bring us successfully to this turning point. We continue to count on the commitment from all of us, families, staff and students, to adhere to the guidelines and requirements to maintain the health and safety of all persons in our care.
Long time, no blogPosted by James Walsh on 10/9/2020
It has been a while since I was able to add to my blog. Every minute has been spent digging deeply into the science and policy surrounding the pandemic in order to lead the organization into the new normal. As an educational leader, trained in pedagogy, district leadership and andragogy, nothing prepared me for the work of the past seven months. I have learned so much about keeping students and staff safe, about air flow in industrial HVAC units, about hospital-grade disinfectants, and so forth. All of it has been essential in guiding my work to navigate the district through unchartered waters. I am most grateful for the help of my administrative team, my colleagues in IU1 and the backing of a pro-education, pro-child board of school directors.
something worth sharingPosted by James Walsh on 7/13/2020 11:00:00 AM
Got this one in an email the other day, I liked it so much I just had to share it.
A man came across some bricklayers and asked them what they were doing. The first responded, “I am laying bricks.”
The second said, “I am making $17.50 an hour.”
When a third bricklayer was asked, he replied, “I am a building a wall."
But the fourth one said “I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in town. Years from now people will be able to come together here and worship.”
The same could be asked of administrators and teachers. At any point during your day working with staff and students, what would you say? What would your staff say? Ultimately, what are you trying to accomplish? Why did you choose to be an educator and are you living that out daily?
When people ask educators what they do, the answers are usually "Superintendent", "Principal", "Teacher", "Coach", "Counselor", or "Secretary". But those are just job titles. What you really do is you provide direction, guidance, and encouragement in order to help take a young person from where they are to where they need to be. You help people reach their potential and maximize their success. You build up and develop the future members and leaders in our community.
I want to encourage you today to constantly remember why it is that you got into education. Furthermore, I encourage you to lift up, inspire, and support each other to remember their why and continue to build something special and lasting.
A great post worth re-postingPosted by James Walsh on 5/26/2020 8:00:00 AM
*This entry is a re-posting of a great blog by George Couros, which he took from the PROFESSIONAL LEARNING JOURNAL
1. They are a welcoming and warm environment.
You can get a feeling of the culture of a school within a few minutes of entering. Whether it is talking to the secretary, or seeing what is on the walls, the culture permeates through all pores of the building. Every adult makes every child feel important, whether it is making connections with them during supervision or acknowledging them as you pass them in the hallway. This starts with the principal, but it is something that should be expected from all staff. Learn names, make kids feel welcome and valued, and create a space where students want to be. Without this, other factors don’t matter much.
2. They develop students as good people and learners.
It is imperative that we not only develop kids as learners but as great people. Many would argue that this is the role of the parents/guardians at home, and although I agree it is imperative at home, it is not the responsibility of either home or school, it is that we develop both. It truly takes a village. If schools only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them. This is not to say that people and students will not make mistakes, but that they develop empathy and understanding for others, and learn to become considerate and kind for others as well. Both becoming a learner and a better person, can be taught at the same time.
3. They model the learning they expect from their students.
Continuous growth that is expected from wtudents should be expected from educators as well. As teachers expect students to grow and become comfortable with change, this needs to be modeled in what we do every day. Educators need to put their learning at the forefront to ensure that schools go beyond being relevant to students. Still, they immerse students in the reality of their current world, while preparing them for the future.
4. They stoke curiosity, not extinguish it.
School should not be the end of learning, but only part of the beginning. Do our students develop an insatiable curiosity to grow, ask questions, challenge ideas, create, innovate, collaborate, and become "problem finders and solvers” now and in the future? My fear is that willingness to poke around, ask questions, and press buttons to see what happens eventually is “schooled” out of them. As Amanda Lang shares in her book, “The Power Of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success,” curiosity leads to intelligence:
Curiosity is, therefore, strongly correlated with intelligence. For instance, one longitudinal study of 1,795 kids measured intelligence and curiosity when they were three years old, and then again eight years later. Researchers found that kids who had been equally intelligent at age three were, at eleven, no longer equal. The ones who’d been more curious at three were now also more intelligent, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider how curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge. The more interested and alert and engaged you are, the more you’re likely to learn and retain. In fact, highly curious kids scored a full twelve points higher on IQ tests than less curious kids did.
We do not need to spark the fire of curiosity of kids in school; they show up curious from day one. We just need to be sure that we fan the flame and not extinguish it.
In Appreciation of TeachersPosted by James Walsh on 5/5/2020 8:00:00 AMToday marks the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week across the country. Typically, parents, students and administration would be showering our teachers with special treats throughout the week as signs of our heartfelt appreciation for your commitment to the students of Burgettstown. While more necessary than ever, unfortunately, none of our normal celebrations can happen this year, and that is really disappointing. It does not lessen the sentiments, though, because we realize in the midst of these challenges how much we need great teachers like ours.I think the closure of schools has actually deepened our appreciation for the power and necessity of teachers. Being available to students albeit remotely and for supporting them during this difficult time, proves to everyone in our world how much we need and value teachers. Our teachers are making something educational and meaningful out of a tough situation, and in doing so, convincing critics how much the power of positive, productive relationships with students can have on learning. To me, the message is loud and clear: nothing "cyber" or artificial can replace what teachers really do for students. We are so fortunate to have ours!On behalf of the Board of School Directors and the rest of the administrative team, I wish our teachers all the happiest (and a healthy) teacher appreciation week.
We are definitely growingPosted by James Walsh on 4/7/2020 7:00:00 AM
Checking in...Posted by James Walsh on 4/6/2020 7:20:00 AM
It’s hard to believe, but we are at the end of three weeks of this mandatory school closure, and by all measures, everyone is doing a superb job under difficult circumstances. From a very grateful school, we give you our thanks. Thank you for remaining flexible and supportive of the plans and expectations we established. We are striving to provide meaningful school work in an equitable and supportive way. Thank you for being patient and supportive of your child(ren) as they adjust to a whole new normal form of school. While kids are typically very resilient, this pandemic has forced a whole different kind of normalcy. Above all, children will need our patience, loving support and gentle guidance to help them adjust and settle. We hope that is your priority. School work can be second.
Do not be overwhelmed or stressed about your child(ren) falling behind or regressing with school. Everyone is in the same situation, not just Burgettstown, not just Pennsylvania; everybody’s children are trying to learn in a very challenging situation. You can trust that we as a district will take as much time as needed to reacquaint with your child(ren) to see where they are – and we will start the teaching from there. We will expect to do a lot of catching up, but that’s our life’s calling. We are ready, willing and able to make this work now and when it is all over.
In the end, we hope to look back on this time with immense pride. We expect to be proud of the children for doing their best without the comforts of a classroom full of friends and a nurturing teacher. We expect to be proud of our parents for the buckets of patience, love and support poured out on our children. We expect to be proud of the innovation, determination and connectivity of our staff. We know this because we already are proud of them and you!
Keep up the great work!
First who, then whatPosted by James Walsh on 4/1/2020 12:00:00 PM
It's been a while since I posted anything, so I ask forgiveness for the delay in connecting with my readers. I will blame "March Madness." March was a surreal, spontaneous and reactive, immediate problem-solving-kind-of-time to be a leader. We turn the calendar over now to April. Alas! Spring is here, but I do not think many of us are enjoying it from the confines of our social distancing.
Today is April Fool's Day, a holiday of obligation for the kids in my house. It seems to be our gregarious reactions to their tricks that seem to give them the most satisfaction, not the creative thought in devising their successful subtrifuging schemes. I, on the other hand, am more in awe of their creative thought - even though it ends up in my humiliation at their mechevious hands. Reactions...that implies a human connection was there and trust was established.
I've been thinking a lot about relationships this year. Over and over again, I have been reminded about the necessity of establishing strong relationships before any productivity can be achieved. Jim Collins in Good to Great says, "First who, then what." In other words, the priority of a great system is on its people: getting the right people "on the bus and in the right seats." To that end, consider the new C.E.O of Barnes and Noble, who declared the very existence of this retail chain depended on all employees establishing relationships with their customers and each other. When you can buy a book cheaper online, it is the experience of coming into the store to connect with people: the sales floor help, the barrista, the cashier, who develop relationships with them and turn them into a loyal, company-sustaining customers. To do that well, you need the right people, with the capacity to develop healthy relationships: "first who, then what."
So much of what we do well in our schools comes from that same mentality of the C.E.O. of Barnes and Noble. If we are going to achieve growth for each and every student, it will be because the individual felt a positive connection to one (or more) of us. Recognizing student needs happens because someone in the organization knows the student well enough to understand his or her needs at that point in time. It's also true with achievement. Students will do well because they want to please those in their lives with whom they are positively connected. They want to make someone proud; all we need to do is work on being that positve connection. To do that well, you need the right people, with the capacity to develop healthy relationships: "first who, then what."
2020 VisionPosted by James Walsh on 2/14/2020 7:00:00 AM
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.
Welcome 2020! How we have looked forward to meeting you!
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