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How do we measure success?

November 8, 2019

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a community member who is a student in a Ph.D. program at a prestigious University. The candidates were conducting a case study related to defining, delivering, and measuring value within an organization. It was a fascinating conversation. The community member asked how value is defined, measured, and delivered within a school district. Specifically, we talked about the concept as it relates to the Saline Compass. When one looks at Saline Area Schools, the tangibles are there:  rankings, graduation rates, composite SAT, and ACT scores. Saline students perform exceptionally well based on these traditional measures. Collectively, as a community, these rankings remain among the highest in the state.

But do test scores and graduation rates tell the real story?

When one starts to think about defining value within the framework of the learner profile (Compass) attributes that we want our students to possess as they exit the Saline Schools, it is quickly evident that “value” is more complicated than any single score. Over the last several years, we have taken a new approach. Engaging Saline alumni is now an essential component used to determine the impact of our work.  To truly understand the long-term influence of the educational system, it is vitally important to consider the impact those experiences played when the graduates were attending school in Saline.

The value delivered by Saline Area Schools to the students rests in the eight learner attributes of the Learner Profile/SAS Compass: ethical and responsible citizen, creative innovator, complex thinker and problem solver, positive communicator, financially and digitally literate, globally-connected, motivated & self-directed, and collaborative leader. Those attributes define value-added education.

Currently, we are working on two initiatives related to gathering feedback from Saline alumni. The first is a systemic approach to collecting and analyzing specific input from a cross-section of alumni. This first focus group is graduates from the years 2011-2014. Former students in that demographic should have adequate life experiences so that they can reflect on the impact of their education in Saline. 

The second approach is to take the feedback that we have received over the last several years and use that input to improve our existing system. We need more alumni feedback to help us in this effort. We are currently looking for a 2014 alumnus to sit on a panel of other recent graduates from around Washtenaw County to provide us with insight as we look to partner with other local districts to expand internship opportunities for seniors.


If you are or know of a 2014 Saline graduate that might be interested in participating on this panel on December 9th from 12-2 pm – please click this link.

Does anyone really know what time it is?

November 3, 2019

The Chicago Transit Authority’s hit from their first album asks:

Does anybody really know what time it is? (I don’t)

Does anybody really care? (care about time)

If so I can’t imagine why (no, no)

We’ve all got time enough to cry.

Over the last few years, I have been wondering about clocks, digital vs. conventional, and the usefulness of such instruments in schools. For a variety of reasons, traditional, analog clocks are a challenge to keep synchronized, especially in buildings that have been renovated several times over the years. Also, each building has multiple versions of the classroom clock. The maintenance staff spends a lot of time (no pun intended), adjusting and working on these antiquated timepieces, often to no avail. Clocks with Arabic numerals first appeared in the mid-18th century. As with many tools used in classrooms, the efficacy of such devices may no longer be relevant in the 21st-century. Yet, it is still frustrating for students and staff when the clocks are inaccurate. 

As I have visited schools, I note the type of clocks used and how many devices are in various areas – meaning are they in classrooms or just common areas. I have seen just about everything – no clocks at all, conventional clocks in all spaces, digital in all, and a blend of the two. In large areas used for standardized testing, students must face a wall with a working clock. We have resorted to bringing in inexpensive, battery-operated analog clocks due to the reliability of those devices.

The trend I have noticed recently is fewer clocks in classrooms, hallways, and common areas. The clocks are almost exclusively digital. One new technological feature is the option to display messages on the digital clocks as well. Thus, in an emergency, essential safety messages can be transmitted at a glance throughout a building.

In 2018, across classrooms in the United Kingdom, analog clocks were replaced with digital. The main reason for the switch is that students were unable to read the analog clock faces. In primary classrooms in the UK, students are not taught to read a clock to “tell time.”

Is it time for Saline Schools to consider a similar move?

Happy Halloween from Liberty School

October 31, 2019

Class Size Report – October 22nd

October 22, 2019

Here are the links to the presentation to the Board of Education on Tuesday, October 22nd.

Screencast with Audio

Class Size Presentation (Screencast)

PDF Format

Class Size Presentation (PDF)

Article regarding the presentation from Saline Post

Have comments or questions? Click Here.

Patience in Education – No such thing as an overnight change 

October 18, 2019

One of my mentors once told me that public organizations take seven years to make sustainable changes. I was young and naive, and I told him he was wrong. We discussed the need for schools to adapt to the changes occurring in modern society – so I was disappointed to hear him say that it would take that long. I wanted to move quickly and felt that others in the organization did as well. The evidence of the need for systemic change was (and is) everywhere. 

He told me, “A new system that meets the needs of students and is supported by staff and community is not something you can go buy from an education resource company like Houghton Mifflin. Building anything worthwhile in life takes time. First, because it takes time to understand the current issues within a system, second, You must wait for the right opportunity. Third, you need to do the necessary work to bring others along with you.”

What was at the bottom line was this: I needed to develop patience. Meaningful change requires patience.

As I reflect on the last decade-plus as superintendent of Saline Area Schools, I can see the times that I moved quickly on large scale change. The organization resisted it. Details and developing a shared understanding get overlooked. Processing time gets crunched down and causes anxiety within the staff members that are managing the change.  

When one is trying to achieve personal goals and improve opportunities for students, there are moments when the temptation to hit the fast forward button is real. Time seems to stand still.  In general, I can be quite impatient at times. I had to learn that there is a difference between a desire to achieve outcomes and impatience. The former helps; the latter can harm.

Sustainable overnight change does not exist. I have had to remind myself of that whenever I feel impatient. When ambition and personal pride overshadow the intended outcome, sustainable change cannot happen. It has taken me a while to learn that sustained innovation requires patience. 

Innovation and technology are not the same.

October 10, 2019
Saline High School Digital Media Lab

A common viewpoint is that new technology is innovation.  Without question, when a new technology emerges, it looks and feels like innovation. Most of the time, it is. However, when experts define the term “innovation,”  they define an action rather than a “thing.” Innovation means staying relevant in fast-paced, changing times. Experts in the field talk about using innovative approaches to address real challenges and adding value to a process or an outcome.

Similarly, when Saline Area Schools is described as an innovative district, that descriptor is often interpreted as the technology – the equipment –  is abundant. True enough. There are computers, iPods, iPads, laptops, SmartBoards, Apple TVs, and a plethora of other machines available to students and staff. Saline students and staff use technology to learn, grow, manage, communicate AND innovate.  I can’t think of a thriving industry that does not embrace new technologies to either stay relevant or to gain efficiency. Saline Area Schools is innovative because of the organizational culture. New ideas, methodologies, and approaches are sought, tried, and valued.  It is that innovation that holds value; not the amount bandwidth used or the number of Chromebooks in each classroom.

Educational technology can enable and accelerate some innovations. However, bold ideas start with creative staff members who are committed to finding new ways to help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful long after they leave our educational system. 

Rigor or Skills? Doesn’t need to be the question…

October 7, 2019

One of the questions I get asked relatively often is, “Which is more important – rigorous academic content or learning focused on developing skills/mindsets?” The reality is… that is not really the right question. The reality is both AND (yes, a big AND) they should be integrated in purposeful ways.

I had the opportunity to attend the EdLeader21 Annual Event last week and saw the graphic above that clearly articulates the idea that deeper learning is a combination of sophisticated content and a well designed instructional framework that targets skills development.

As the last sentence of the Saline Area Schools vision states, “Our ultimate goal is to instill in our students a desire for lifelong learning.”

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