Here is my presentation for the 2010 Dynamic Landscapes Conference on May 13, 2010.
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.
I was quite to surprised to find out I had been selected to be the Vermont Superintendent of the Year for 2009. Here are the remarks I made upon receiving this honor.
Thank you very much. I am deeply honored to be this year’s recipient. I enjoy being a Vermont superintendent. I enjoy the complexity and intellectual rigor of the work, and it is important to me to know I am making a positive contribution to the democratic governance practices of our school boards.
It has been my privilege to serve as Secretary of our Association during this past year. We have had very productive discussions at our Trustees’ meetings about the mission, purpose, and organizational structure of the Association as well as our public educational system. These conversations have been very rich, and are reflective of the extensive practical experience and collective wisdom that resides within the Association. I believe we need to open this discourse up, to expand it, so we can include more educational leaders in the state and to ensure our thinking can better inform key stakeholders including policy makers.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank several people. Firstly, I would like to thank my wife Hilary and daughter Lauren who tolerate my evening absences and who have always been supportive of my work. I would like to acknowledge Wayne Murray, a former Vermont Superintendent of the Year, who taught me a few things about being a principal and who mentored me into being a superintendent; his leadership gave me the space to innovate and to do good things for kids.
I would also like to thank Drs. Judy Aiken, Ray Proulx, Bruce Richardson and members of the University of Vermont Northeast Kingdom Doctoral Cohort in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. I have benefited greatly from your thinking. I appreciate you allowing me to continue my membership in this group even though I have since moved from the Northeast Kingdom to the Banana Belt of Vermont. Lastly, I would like to thank the staff of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. We have a dynamic central office, and it is a pleasure to work with all of you. In many ways we are still an organizational work in progress. Coming to work every day is fun, and I feel truly privileged to serve as your Superintendent.
The supervisory union embarked on several structural changes to its operations in 2008. Hiring procedures were centralized and uniform personnel provisions for non-teaching staff were implemented in all districts. The business operations of the Mettawee Community School were transferred to the supervisory union office providing greater efficiency and control for that district and at no additional cost to either the district or the supervisory union.
Our five districts who operate schools partnered with the supervisory union to consolidate photocopier leases and to go out to bid for these services together under one contract. This process took about 7 months and will ultimately result in a predicted savings of $85,000 in the first five years of the new contract with even greater savings in the future as old leases are paid off.
All districts and the central office were moved to Google’s free communication platform for educational institutions. This platform gives staff the ability to use a common messaging and calendaring system. Federal grant funds were used to implement a computerized student information system in our four schools that did not operate such a system. These systems will enhance school-parent communications and give staff better access to student achievement data. Grant funds were also used to purchase an emergency messaging system for all of our schools. This system, AlertNOW, gives each school the ability to contact parents instantly by sending a single message through a web-based interface.
A central special education database was established in the supervisory union office over the summer. This centralization required the consolidation of approximately 15 separate databases throughout the supervisory union. The new configuration allows staff to access the database over the Internet, and gives staff better data on special education programs across all districts. This consolidation of databases allowed the supervisory union to eliminate a clerical position.
The boards began a process to revise administrative job descriptions. A particular focus of this work is the examination of the responsibilities of the superintendent as compared to the principals. This work will be helpful in clarifying expectations for all staff, and will lead to the establishment of evaluation processes for administrators that are closely tied to meeting organizational objectives.
The boards embarked upon a major revision of their policy manuals with the intent of standardizing the mandatory policies required by the state while at the same time maintaining local flexibility in areas of special interest to their communities. Having standardized mandatory policies will provide common policy language to support the training of staff in areas of emerging legal concern. The new policies articulate how each board will operate and describe the organizational objectives of each district. The policy process will culminate in a mass policy adoption in the Spring of 2009.
The work described above represents the earnest support of many volunteer board members who have given countless hours on behalf of their districts. Their ability to work together to leverage centralization where prudent and to maintain local control when necessary is indicative of their exemplary dedication to public service. This work also represents the commitment of our building level staff to serve all our students and families. I thank them for their work. Such dedication will be necessary to navigate our current economic circumstances. I feel confident, however, that we are off to a good start and have formed the basis of a productive working relationship. We will continue to seek opportunities to become more efficient in our operations but not lose sight of our primary mission to meet the educational needs of all of our students.
Re-reading some things for my dissertation proposal defense on Monday. Tom Sergiovanni’s Leadership for Stewardship: the public school leader’s special commitment to protect and nourish the larger civic good.
It is through morally-held role responsibilities that we can understand school administration as a profession in its traditional sense. School administration is bound not just to standards of technical competence, but to standards of public obligation as well. The primacy of public obligation leads us to the roots of school leadership – stewardship defined as a commitment to administer to the needs of the school by serving its purposes, by serving those who struggle to embody its purposes, and by acting as a guardian to protect the institutional integrity of the school.