Here is my presentation for the 2010 Dynamic Landscapes Conference on May 13, 2010.
During the 2009 school year, new administrative job descriptions were adopted. This work culminated in the design and implementation of a superintendent evaluation process that will serve as a model for the evaluation of all administrative staff. The results of the superintendent evaluation were reduced down to specific organizational priorities. These priorities can be viewed on the BRSU website.
These priorities focus on strengthening our instructional systems, personalizing learning opportunities for students through the use of technology, and improving the efficiency of our operations. In terms of operational efficiency, the accounting services for the Manchester School District were shifted to the BRSU office in Sunderland. This change will save Manchester approximately $37,000 a year and will greatly enhance our financial reporting capabilities. The Mettawee School District transitioned their accounting services to the central office in 2008. Consolidating our back office operations saves money, streamlines audit processes, and provides greater oversight to board members and the public.
Another major structural change being implemented pertains to our early education programs. The supervisory union and its districts are navigating a new law, Act 62, which provides incentives for the expansion of early education programs. Based on these changes, we will be eliminating a full-time director position at the BRSU and some of the responsibilities for administering the school-based early education programs will be shifted to administrators in the schools.
We have made substantial progress in improving the efficiency of our operations, but there is still more work to be done in this area. Since 80% of our costs are attributed to personnel, our major strategy for achieving greater efficiency will be to seek opportunities to share personnel and services among our districts. I believe this points to the necessity for governance reform; our current structure of 9 districts and 10 boards is too cumbersome and inhibits our ability to respond to changing economic circumstances and declining student numbers. Governance reform is being considered at the state level, but our districts are not waiting for these decisions to be made in Montpelier. We are engaged in a serious review of our systems and will be organizing opportunities in the coming months for broad community input on this topic as our boards establish Ends policies.
Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), our districts have received additional federal “stimulus” funds. These funds have been received through federal formula programs and must be spent in accordance with the guidelines of these programs. We have received approximately $90,000 in Title I and $400,000 in IDEAB or special education. All of these funds are one-time funds and must be spent in two years. The Title I funds are being allocated to the three BRSU districts that are eligible to receive these funds (Currier, Mettawee, and Sunderland), and the IDEAB funds will be spent centrally to reduce the costs of our special education programs. Most likely we will use these funds to establish special education programs at the supervisory union level in order to reduce costs for sending students out of the district for these services. We will also be reviewing the transportation costs of these programs to see if it would be more cost effective to run our own transportation services.
In spite of these additional funds, all of our districts have struggled this year to adopt budgets that are both fiscally responsive and sensitive to student program needs. The majority of our districts, however, have been able to achieve decreases in their expenditure budgets which is no small accomplishment considering many of our fixed costs are increasing. We will need your continued involvement and support to ensure we can navigate these challenging economic circumstances while at the same time ensuring our children obtain a quality education. Thank you for your support.
It’s great to see you all. I hope you had a restful and enjoyable summer in spite of the rain.
I want to take a few minutes and talk about about some of the changes we have planned for this year. Some of them are administrative and others are more instructional.
MLP – We have implemented MyLearningPlan, an online system to manage professional development. MLP is a company that has a significant presence in 49 states – they are the market leader for this type of product. We are the first district in Vermont to use this system. We will see how it goes. I have observed the Vermont relicensure process now for over 10 years. Like you, I have witnessed many changes to the process over time. In spite of the talents, artistic and otherwise, of the members of our local and regional standards boards, I remain convinced there has to be a better way. Our system of relicensure is overly complicated, time consuming, and not necessarily supportive of continued professional growth. It is my hope that our experience with MLP will not only serve our needs, but also serve as a model for reform of the entire system.
We will be rolling out the “instructional catalog” feature of the system in September. This aspect of the system allows us to handle enrollment in SU or district-sponsored activities. Completion of these activities is recorded automatically in your MLP portfolio which will assist you in tracking these activities. Considering these are some of the most valuable activities from an organizational perspective, I am looking forward to promoting this aspect of the system. Keep an eye out for “Google Apps 101” trainings – we will use MLP to handle registration and enrollment in these workshops.
AMS – AMS is the new leave taking system. As opposed to MLP which is hosted on MLP’s servers, AMS is located in the BRSU office. Last year we used a similar system to handle leave requests for administrative staff across the SU, and this year we wanted to do the same for all staff. This has been a significant undertaking as we had to consolidate the leave records for each staff member into a single database. If you think there is an error in your leave balances contact Celeste Keel. If you have trouble logging into the system, email me.
Perhaps the most exciting innovation this year from an instructional perspective is bringing students into our Google Apps system preK-8. We will be rolling this out differently in each building because it requires the support of board members and parents, and also requires staff members to understand how this change can be harnessed from an instructional perspective. I have developed model usage guidelines for students and parents and will be developing some for staff members as well. I am looking forward to adding our students to the system because I think it puts in place a necessary precondition for instructional innovation – the ability of teachers and students to communicate electronically in order extend and embellish classroom activities with online resources.
Lastly, I wanted to discuss the governance work that is going on. Last year the five districts that operate schools adopted new board policy manuals. These districts now have common operational policies. We are about to begin the next phase of this work which is the creation of Ends policies. The boards will be tapping your expertise to come to an understanding of what their communities want to see as outcomes for each school. These outcomes or Ends will be set up in policy and will guide and focus the future direction of each school.
I see this governance work as being critical to the future success of our schools. We are in a time of great change in terms of the structure of public education. Some of these changes are the result of technology which will put pressure on schools to become more efficient in their operations while at the same time delivering instruction in a more personalized manner; what one of my colleagues refers to as the “disaggregation of one.”
I am confident the mission of public education will remain, to a certain extent, unchanged. The Vermont constitution defines that mission as discouraging vice and promoting virtue in order to serve the larger public good. I believe we will need to tap back into this historic mission and bring to the forefront the importance of this work. The work you do is vitally important not only to the future success of each student but for the success of our world. To that end, I want to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our students, their families and our communities. I wish you success in the coming year, and let me know if there is anything I can do to better support you in this work.
Here is an update on school district consolidation in Maine. The state forced district consolidation through a legal framework that includes a series of economic carrots and sticks. Vermont should consider a similar approach.
Bangor Daily News, Jan. 28
BANGOR, Maine — At least eight of 18 proposals to consolidate school administrations into regional units were defeated at polls around the state Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Residents from Allagash to Brewer and from Deer Isle to Jackman cast ballots to sink reorganization plans in their areas. Three consolidation plans were approved to serve communities in the Old Town, Orono and Bucksport areas, according to unofficial tallies. The results on proposals in other areas were not available Tuesday night.
No matter what the voters decide, there still will be a lot of work to do, state Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said before the polls closed Tuesday. “Some who vote no will want to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “And we’ll encourage them to do that and we’ll support them in any way we can.”
Eighteen plans to consolidate school administrations for 110 individual school districts with an estimated enrollment of 34,888 students were voted on Tuesday. Thirteen of 22 plans voted on in November and earlier this month already have been approved by voters. The state’s deadline for referendums on the proposals is Jan. 30. Those districts whose voters approved the reorganization plans Tuesday will have to work to implement their plans so that the new district will be ready to begin operations on July 1 as outlined in the consolidation law. Among the steps involved in becoming a new unit are electing a new school committee, hiring a superintendent and developing a budget for the newly formed district.
Most of the details for forming the new units are included in the plans themselves, but with five months to go before the start of the new school year, it is still a tight timeline. Connerty-Marin said the department will provide assistance for the districts to develop an educational plan for their schools. The department has created a reorganization education planning team to assist the new Regional School Units and Alternative Organizational Structures with their educational planning. “The idea is to assist them as they work together to adapt their educational systems as they bring several systems together as one,” Connerty-Marin said.
The team will include a group of facilitators headed by former Portland superintendent Mary Jane McCalmon who will be able to work with the new districts on their educational planning. Use of those facilitators is voluntary. They will be paid by the Education Department, which also will provide small $5,000 grants to the districts who use the facilitators to support the educational planning. In districts where the plan has been rejected by the voters, the planning committees may opt to try to develop a new plan. Connerty-Marin said it was unlikely that those plans will be ready for the districts to begin operating in 2009. “It’s not clear that folks who return to the table will in fact be able to begin operations by July 1, ’09,” he said. “They may be working for creation of a new district the following year. It’s a very tight timetable to be operating by July 1.”
Those districts that have rejected the reorganization plan face penalties for their failure to reorganize. The consolidation law provides for reductions in school subsidies in those districts. It is unclear how those districts will continue to operate at the beginning of the new school year. School unions would be dissolved at the end of this school year, although there has been some debate about the intent of the law and some have argued that the law prohibits only the creation of new school unions. Connerty-Marin has suggested that they will need to develop new interlocal agreements to allow them to perform some joint functions such as hiring a superintendent.
The proposals and the referendums are in response to the law passed in June 2007 requiring that the state’s 290 school districts be reorganized into approximately 80 regional school units governed by regional school boards. The law was amended by the Legislature in April 2008 to address problems some communities encountered, including issues of local control, cost-sharing, and minimum numbers of students per regional school unit, among others.
The foreclosures in this Newshour story highlight the degree of personal tragedy associated with the recent economic downturn. I am saddened to see the material nature of our culture exposed for what it is – an empty pursuit. As a country, we need to figure this out. We can’t afford to continue to consume more than we need.
Here is a great video with some clips from Daniel Pink among others – I think this is where we are headed.
This is a very exciting time for learning. It is the death of education, but it is the dawn of learning.
-Ken Kay, Partnership for 21st Century Skills
I was recently pulling some thoughts together from the BLC conference. A session on Northern Ireland’s educational system was particularly interesting. The speaker characterized “best practice” as a top-down approach.
He also mentioned an article that was extremely influential in European school reform entitled Education Epidemic. The article was written in 2003 by DH Hargreaves and published by London-based think tank called Demos.
What is meant by ‘good practice’? Sometimes it refers to standard practices that are considered effective, part of a profession’s repertoire or ‘custom and practice’. Novices are expected to learn these. Sometimes the term refers to a less common or recently devised practice that is thought to be better or more effective than the standard; many innovations fall into this category, especially when they remain untested but are advocated by their creators. However, greater effectiveness is not necessarily more efficient. For example, a new practice for the teacher may help a student learn better, but the cost to the teacher, in terms of time or energy, may be so great that the costs of the new practice outweigh the benefits. For a practice to be a good one it should have high leverage, that is, it should have a large effect for a small energy input. A new practice of low leverage, where the energy input is disproportionate to the outcome achieved, hardly qualifies as ‘good practice’. High leverage is the key to teachers working smarter, not harder, and should be at the heart of transferred innovation.
It is interesting reading, and has much to say about where we are as a supervisory union and a state particularly in light of Vermont’s new interest in “school transformation.” My intention behind bringing staff into a collaborative platform such as Google Apps is to leverage technology in order to cultivate a culture of innovation in each of our schools, while at the same time providing a convenient means to spread those innovations that are deemed to be both “high leverage” and effective among all of our schools.
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.
I want to thank staff, board members, and community members for welcoming me and my family into the district. I especially want to thank Dr. Greg Scieszka for his help in preparing the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union for a change in leadership.
Much of my work over the past six months has been in learning the specific operational aspects of this supervisory union and its member districts. I have been focused on getting to know people and building positive working relationships with both staff and board members. The outcome of this work will be a conversation on what the role of the supervisory union should be as compared to the districts. We will need to thoughtfully examine all of our programs, particularly special education, early education and business services, to see if greater efficiencies can be achieved through the centralization of services at the supervisory union level.
I believe the issue of centralization is an essential question for us to consider and should prepare us well to navigate regulatory changes coming from the state and federal governments. These changes include modifications to Vermont’s educational finance system and governance reform. If we can improve our programs by working together within our supervisory union, we will be better able to maintain local control in the face of increasing regulation from other levels of government. We will also be able to articulate a successful vision of public education that can serve as a model for the rest of the state, a model that includes an effective partnership between public and private resources and expanded learning opportunities for students.
Responding to change will require us to work together and plan for the future. An important trend for us to consider will be the impact of technology on learning. Information technologies have transformed many aspects of our society but their impact on our K-12 educational systems has not been as significant. When you consider these developments within the larger demographic pattern of declining enrollment, it becomes clear that technology will bring a renewed emphasis on the individualization of instruction and enhanced communication capabilities with parents and the community. These changes are consistent with the historic mission of public education, and I believe we should embrace them in order to realize their full potential. To that end, we have established a new website at www.brsu.org which includes a variety of data on our districts as well as links to the blogs of our educational leaders. We have also begun a significant technology planning process in order to understand how we will need to structure learning for students in the future.
The capacity of our districts to meet the challenges of the future is significant. We have very talented instructors, strong leadership at the school level, dedicated board members, and supportive communities. This organizational capacity needs to be leveraged in order to ensure that every one of our students is given the opportunity to receive the highest quality education and to realize his or her fullest potential in a future that is more global and more connected than previously experienced by any generation. I look forward to this work, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to serve our districts in my capacity as superintendent.