Category Archives: asia

Comments on Supervisory Operations, March 2009

I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon various operational aspects of our districts with an eye on identifying areas of future work.

Collective Bargaining

We began the school year with three out of our six teacher contracts settled.  All six were settled as of December 2008.  Two contracts required mediation to achieve a settlement.  The chart below summarizes the FY2008 salary schedules as compared to the FY2009 salary schedules.

FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009
BRSU $32,983 $33,801 $48,316 $50,506 $37,708 $38,643 $56,368 $58,783
Currier $32,679 $33,858 $57,566 $59,642 $37,277 $38,622 $57,566 $59,642
Dorset $28,776 $32,065 $59,048 $61,813 $32,833 $36,251 $59,048 $61,813
Manchester $32,895 $34,237 $53,594 $55,781 $36,691 $38,187 $60,691 $63,167
Mettawee $29,242 $30,277 $56,144 $58,131 $33,628 $34,818 $57,606 $59,645
Sunderland $29,617 $30,417 $53,607 $55,055 $34,060 $34,980 $53,607 $55,055

The next time we bargain we will have to bargain as a supervisory union in accordance with the requirements of a new law.  This law requires that each district involved in negotiations convene a “bargaining council” that will meet with the other bargaining councils in the supervisory union.  The result of this process will be a unified contract.  Currier and Sunderland contracts expire a year before the other contracts.  As a first step towards a unified contract, I believe we should attempt to seek common language in those areas that are already very similar.  These areas of similar language represent approximately 80% of the language in our contracts.  This could be achieved by starting with new language or by using one of our current contracts as a prototype.  I recommend beginning this work in the fall of 2009.

Centralization vs. Local Control

We have begun to explore how to leverage centralization to our advantage.  This work is represented to date by our common approach to organizing board meeting agendas, hiring staff, purchasing heating oil and photocopiers, a board policy framework, job descriptions of the superintendent and principals, and related evaluation processes.  In most supervisory unions, the rationale for such centralization is more readily apparent because these organizations operate schools K-12: there is a natural tendency towards centralization in supervisory unions when a primary requirement is to ensure a seamless educational program for students as they transition from one school to another within the same system.  This is the system that was anticipated by the law; the relative roles and responsibilities of board members, the superintendent, and principals were set out in the law to support this type of structure.

Our supervisory union is more of a federal system.  I have suggested, however, that our districts would be well served by re-examining what systems might be centralized and what systems should remain at the local level.  To that end, I recommend we consider the following specific areas for review:

  • Business Services – Last year the business operations of Mettawee were brought into the supervisory union.  This consolidation reduced costs slightly while providing greater efficiency because it eliminated duplication of effort and enhanced our reporting capabilities.  The business operations of the Dorset School and MEMS should be reviewed in a similar manner.  I estimate one additional staff person would be necessary at the supervisory union level to replace the work being performed by two positions in these districts.  This consolidation would improve our audit process which is taking too long largely due to the necessity of central office staff to perform a pre-audit on the books of these districts.  This consolidation would also enhance our ability to utilize financial information in order to better meet our strategic planning needs.
  • Coordination of Curriculum – The supervisory union employs a curriculum coordinator.  The curriculum coordinator has worked with the principals on an annual basis to develop a curriculum work plan that guides and coordinates the curriculum in each district.  This work has led to the development of supervisory union curriculum in most subject areas with grade level teams of teachers from all districts meeting regularly to develop common local assessments and to share instructional strategies.  At the same time, several of our schools employ their own curriculum staff in the areas of math, reading, and science.  This structure should be examined from a systems perspective to see if it could be streamlined or better focused to support the larger curriculum work.
  • Special Education Administrative Staff – The supervisory union employs an assistant superintendent for student services and two special education directors.  Dorset and Manchester each employ their own special education directors.  The roles and responsibilities of these positions should be examined to see if it would make more sense to have all special education administrators be employees of the supervisory union.  Such a structure might allow for greater flexibility in assigning administrative responsibilities as student needs change, and could enhance our ability to supervise secondary student programming needs across all sending districts.  I also believe this change would eliminate redundancies and duplication of tasks while promoting a more consistent implementation of frequently changing rules and regulations.
  • Early Education – The supervisory union oversees the operation of five early education sites.  Two of these sites are located in private child care centers and one is located in the Mt. Tabor town office building.  These programs serve special needs students and students deemed to be at risk.  Manchester has expressed an interest in expanding the program located at MEMS to include all four year olds.  The process for considering this expansion will be started in the spring of 2009.  A natural outcome of this process will be to examine if the early education programs should be administered by the supervisory union, the districts, or some combination of both.
  • Transportation – Three districts (Dorset, Manchester, and Sunderland) operate their own busing and Currier and Mettawee contract their transportation out to their member districts.  Rupert and Pawlet just went out to bid for a two year transportation contract.  This new contract will expire at the same time the contract expires for Danby, Mt. Tabor and Currier.  Before these contracts are renewed in two years, I believe we should examine all of our student transportation systems to see if a more efficient system could be achieved.  A particular area of concern is special education transportation.  We are frequently required to provide student transportation for special education students as a related service under their Individual Education Plans.  Our costs in this area are high, and due to the lack of a systematic approach our special education administrators have to spend a great deal of time to trying to develop and secure transportation services for their students.
  • Information Systems – We have implemented several information systems to increase efficiency and to provide greater functionality.  These systems include Google Apps (mail, calendaring, instant messaging, and collaborative documents and websites), SpEdDoc (a centralized special education data management system), AlertNOW (emergency messaging system), and Web2School and PowerSchool (student information management systems).  To move forward with technology both from an operational/efficiency perspective and from an instructional perspective will require us to standardize the networking hardware in each school.  An emerging concern is the need to expand wireless connectivity within the school buildings to meet increased demand from students and staff for access to networked resources.  These needs will be best met by adopting a common hardware approach among all of the schools.

Policy Work

Our districts have engaged in a significant policy revision process.  All districts that operate schools have begun to work on adopting a new policy framework that includes mandatory policies, local policies and ends policies.  The ends policies should serve as a helpful structure in guiding conversations about the future goals of each school.  I will begin working with the districts that do not operate schools to create a policy manual that meets their needs in a similar manner.  The last phase of the policy work is to review supervisory union policies and procedures.  Much of this effort will be focused on revising financial procedures, curriculum coordination policies, and professional development policies.  It is my hope that we can begin this work in the fall of 2009.

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We need to modernize our education infrastructure

I enjoyed hearing Daniel Pink a few weeks ago when he spoke to the teachers of Chittenden County.  He made some remarks about how we needed improve our education infrastructure.  He characterized many of our schools as being 40 years old and asked, “would you take your car to repair shop that had 40 year old infrastructure?  Would you go to a hospital or clinic that had 40 year old infrastructure and technology?”

I found a similar theme in a recent op ed piece by Thomas Friedman.  The quality of our public infrastructure reflects the relative importance we, as a country, place on education.  This needs to change.

When I attended the BLC conference this summer I was able to mingle with education leaders from Europe and Africa.  They get it.  They see education as a national priority directly connected to their economic competitiveness.

Letting market forces alone guide our improvements is not going to cut it in an era where other countries are urgently focusing their national resources on improving education infrastructure – we are in a global education arms race but we have not figured it out yet.

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Mettawee Graduation Address, 2008

Good evening. I want to thank the graduating class of 2008 for inviting me to be a part of this special occasion, and on behalf of the staff and administration of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, I want to congratulate you on having achieved this important milestone in your academic careers.

Next year you will begin a new chapter in your school careers and perhaps will start thinking more seriously about what you want to do with your life, your career, and your future. It is exciting to think about these possibilities; especially when we consider that many of the careers that will be available to you do not exist today. I thought I would take this opportunity to offer you some advice in this area based on my own life experience.

First and foremost, I would advise you to get a good education. A good education is about being open to learning new things and your willingness to participate in the learning process. Joseph Campbell, an important scholar of comparative mythology, advised his college students to follow their bliss. What I think he meant by “bliss” was you need to follow your curiosity and seek out answers to questions that interest you. This is where a good education opens a world of possibilities. Don’t be a student that tells his or her teacher “I’ll never use that.” How do you know you won’t use it? Should you only learn things you think will be useful in the future based on your understanding of the present?

When I was in sixth grade, many years ago now, I was very interested in history, particularly the history of far away places in Asia such as China and Mongolia. Later in my life I had the opportunity to study Asian history and Asian languages. My parents were disappointed that I did not pursue a career in the sciences – in the 1980s many parents wanted their children to grow up to be engineers or scientists because they made a lot of money. At the time, studying Asian history did not seem to be a good career choice to them, but I was interested in learning more.

Of course, my parents were right – it was not a good career choice – , but ultimately I became a history teacher, a principal and now a superintendent, and I can say my understanding of Asian history has been very helpful in my career as an educational leader.

Through studying history, you are better able to understand yourself as well as future possibilities. As New Englanders and Vermonters, you can rightfully lay claim to a rich intellectual history. Over 150 years ago, a great New England scholar named Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a graduation speech at Harvard called “The American Scholar” and challenged future generations of Americans to think for themselves, and to ground their education in an appreciation of nature, history and physical labor. I believe his suggestions, although written over a hundred years ago, offer all of us much value. Read history. Read your history. There is much to be learned from the experiences of people that came before you.

Beyond appreciating nature, history, and physical labor, I think you, as no previous generation, need to understand how to work together with people of other cultures because technology has connected the world in a new and different way. When I was in sixth grade, there was no such thing as a personal computer, or even a Mac for that matter. A good case for not studying computers could have been made based on “I’ll never use that.” And look at where we are today. Technology has opened an even larger world of possibility to you – you will be able to follow your curiosity to places we never dreamed possible, and to work with a wider variety of people and ideas.

To find economic success in this inter-connected world will require not only a good education but also personal discipline, a value learned through hard work. Very few things in life come easily. All sports stars and rock musicians – except perhaps rap singers – share a common background: they have a great deal of natural talent but they have worked incredibly hard to develop that talent. When you see them on TV, what you don’t see is the many hours of practice and sacrifice that went into the perfection of their craft. They all learned personal discipline – the ability to do the necessary hard work to achieve your goals.

Personal discipline has been identified as a characteristic necessary for success. In the 1960s a psychologist at Stanford University named Walter Mischel conducted longitudinal studies with children using marshmallows. He would leave a child alone in a room with a marshmallow and a bell. If the child rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If they waited until he returned on his own, however, he would bring them two marshmallows. He followed up with these children in high school and found out that those children who waited longer were more successful. Being successful is not unlike eating marshmallows – you must cultivate personal discipline now in order to eat marshmallows later.

Fifty years ago, your parents and your teachers could almost guarantee your future success if you received a good education and learned to work hard. Today, that is not automatically the case because you must now compete with people all over the world who are well educated and know how to work even harder because they have had little opportunity. They are hungry for your marshmallows and they are tired of waiting. But I still believe getting a good education and learning to work hard are necessary requisites for your success, because it is only with a good education and personal discipline that you will be able to turn your curiosity or passion – your bliss – into a career.

As the new superintendent for your district, I wonder how well you will meet these challenges, but based on what I have learned about your school and your teachers, I am confident you have been well prepared for success because I have observed there is much in common between the educational focus of the Mettawee Community School and the ideals espoused by Joseph Campbell and Emerson. I know you have been encouraged to listen to your inner voice and to explore your creative side. I also know you have learned to appreciate nature, history, and hard work, and your course of studies has given you exposure to the larger world of ideas that exist beyond this valley. So now we look to you in anxious anticipation of who you might become, of what you might accomplish. Remember what you have learned at Mettawee. You have been provided a solid academic foundation that will ensure your future success. We wish you well, and we are confident you will make the world a better place.

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