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Yesterday’s Home Runs

September 18, 2018

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“Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” – Babe Ruth

On Saturday, September 15, 2018,  I had the marvelous opportunity to attend the Foundation for Saline Area Schools Hall of Fame induction ceremony. As I listened to the eight outstanding individuals talk about their careers, accomplishments and their connection to the Saline community,  I was beaming with pride at the rich history and foundation that was laid for me by those who came before. They spoke of a deep sense of community amongst colleagues and the throughout the Saline city. They spoke of a willingness to learn and grow, to try new things, and to provide a stellar education for the students. Their tenacity, longevity, hard work, and commitment to have a positive impact on our community was quite humbling. I left feeling inspired.

Then, Monday happened… Mondays early in the school year are busy. The students and staff are still adjusting to the new schedules, new buildings, new teachers, and new classmates.  There are always programs, initiatives, and proposals that are just getting off the ground. By the end of the day, I was tired and felt like much of the inspiration and enthusiasm gleaned from some phenomenal mentors on Saturday night had been drained. I was reminded of the Babe Ruth quote when he was asked about his performance in the past and how he thought it would impact the game they were about to play.  He noted that yesterday’s home runs were not going to win today’s game.

I reflected on the speeches that I had heard, the highlights, the accomplishments, and the successes. There is no doubt that those Hall of Fame inductees built an incredibly strong foundation. From that foundation, we can continue to grow and get better. But, at the end of the day, even the end of a long Monday early in a school year, it is up to each of us to dig in and do the hard work necessary to continue to move this district and community forward.

Doing Compass Work

September 16, 2018

Compass

In the weeks leading up to the start of school, I had several conversations with staff about the SAS Compass. As one might imagine, I talk and think about our learner profile a lot. In these conversations, we were discussing various aspects of how we could deepen the work around the eight student attributes that are the framework of the learner profile. As these conversations evolved, patterns emerged. Staff and community members value the compass as it provides a vision, a target, and a means to define the work that is done across all platforms within the SAS District.  The staff values the ideals of a holistic approach to education. Continuity and a common aim for all students are admirable goals. However, there is an apparent disconnect between the development of the attributes and the enhancing or infusing the attributes into the “real work” of school. In fact, in one conversation, the staff member indicated that they wondered at what point in their work they needed to “do the Compass work.” It was eye-opening to hear teachers articulate that they viewed the Compass work as being separate from the content standards, curriculum, and support services that are already in place across the District.

As these conversations took place, I considered the aspects regarding where we are as an organization as related to the pursuit of this holistic approach. First, it is clear to me that the organization and the individuals within it understand that developing and strengthening the specific student skills/ attributes is a worthy endeavor. Second, this realization reminded me that there is much work left to be done. Finally, much of our practice (including mine) is built around the traditional/historic structures of school.

Traditional schooling is teacher-led in classrooms set up in rows of desks. The expectation is that the students will sit and listen and obey. Rote memorization of regurgitation of facts is prevalent. For nine months of the calendar year, schools are open, and students learn basic, traditional subjects such as math, reading, writing, and social studies. Many adults, products of this type of education,  are quite successful. So, is traditional schooling ineffective? Is the Compass relevant?

On the Forbes 2013 list of the top ten skills that employers seek in potential employees, the first is the ability to work as a team(Collaborative Leader). Traditional schooling does not promote that skill. Number four on the list is the ability to communicate verbally with others, both inside and outside of an organization (Positive Communicator, Globally Connected). Traditional schooling does not promote those skills. Numbers seven and eight concern technical knowledge specific to the job and proficiency with computer software and hardware (Complex Thinker, Financially and Digitally LIterate). Traditional schooling falls short in these areas. Evidently, we are on the right track with the SAS Compass and the expected Student Attributes. Measuring the success and documenting student growth in their quest to embody all eight of those attributes is a challenge.

The work of a school district is influenced by the things that we measure. Test scores, for example.  We measure student success based on outdated models and previous understandings of knowledge. This year presents Saline Area Schools as an organization and community of learners with the opportunity to look for new ways to think about and measure student performance.  

“Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that is measured matters.” Elliot Eisner

Ready, Set, Go!

September 3, 2018

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Last Wednesday and Thursday were the first two days of the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers are students, too! All staff reported for work and put the finishing touches on the planning and preparations for the new school year. Instructional staff attended a Professional Learning Symposium at Saline High School. There, teachers learned from the best that Saline has to offer: our own teachers! Topics from how to create a paperless classroom, blended learning, global awareness, social/emotional wellness, and vocabulary enhancement to how to involve students’ voice in their learning were explored. Over 45 sessions, led by Saline Area School staff, gave teachers an opportunity to share, learn, discuss, and explore.

On the second day, staff members were challenged to consider classroom culture, bias, and diversity of thought. Dr. Jay Marks delivered a challenge for SAS to expand cultural proficiency as individuals, buildings, and as an organization.  In general, we engaged in the pursuit of excellence and modeled lifelong learning.

During this time of professional learning, one could see, feel, and hear the excitement. The teachers are ready, anxious even,  to have the students return for another year of learning and growing together. The rush of energy that the students bring is contagious and infectious.  The longer I am in this role and the more “opening of school” days that I see, the more I truly understand what makes a school work. However, I also see that while schools may be led by adults, schools are for the students. Adults can focus on new programs, new ideas, time-tested strategies, infusion of technology, and paperless classrooms. However, in the end, the greater the ability that we, as adults have, to connect and build positive relationships with our students and community, the more successful we become as an organization.

 

I am looking forward to a great school year! See you in the morning!

 

Saline High School – Class of 2018

June 3, 2018

 

Saline High School
Senior Class Survey

Recently, the members of the Class of 2018 completed an online survey to indicate where they would be sending their final transcript. The results for the 381 responses are below:

Michigan Colleges (236) 62%
Out of State Colleges (75) 20%

Michigan Public Colleges (208) 55%
Michigan Private Colleges (28) 7%

All Four Year Colleges (329) 74%
All Two Year Colleges (80) 18%

Technical or Vocational School (3)
Military (8)
Working Full Time (10)

Interesting Numbers:

Michigan Private Schools
Adrian College 5
Albion College 4
Alma College 2
Aquinas College 1
Calvin College 1
Concordia University – Ann Arbor 1
Hillsdale College 1
Hope College 5
Kalamazoo College 2
Kettering University 2
Lawrence Technological University 1
Northwood University 1
Siena Heights University 1
University of Detroit Mercy 2

Michigan Public Schools
Central Michigan University 4
Eastern Michigan University 38
Ferris State University 4
Grand Valley State University 14
Michigan State University 49
Michigan Technological University 9
Northern Michigan University 2
Oakland University 2
Saginaw Valley State University 1
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 47
University of Michigan – Dearborn 3
Wayne State University 4
Western Michigan University 9

Michigan Community Colleges
Lansing Community College 1
Schoolcraft College 2
Washtenaw Community College 41

Public Out of State Colleges
Arizona State University 1
Bowling Green State University 5
Delta State University 1
Indiana University 2
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis 1
Georgia Southern University 1
Miami (OH) University 2
Ohio State University at Lima 1
Ohio University 1
Purdue University 3
University of California – Los Angeles 1
University of California – Santa Cruz 1
University of Cincinnati 1
University of Colorado – Boulder 1
University of Florida 3
University of Kentucky 3
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1
University of Toledo 3
University of Wisconsin at Madison 1
University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point 1
Utah Valley State University 1

Private Out of State Colleges
Auburn University 1
Ashland University 2
Baldwin Wallace University 1
Belmont University 1
Brigham Young University 2
Butler University 3
Case Western Reserve University 1
Chapman University 1
Elmhurst College 1
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach 1
Indiana Wesleyan University 2
Johns Hopkins University 1
Lake Forest College 1
Lipscomb University 1
Maranatha Baptist Bible College 1
North Park College 1
Northwestern University 1
Nova Southeastern University 1
Oberlin College 2
Ohio Northern University 1
Ohio University 1
Syracuse University 1
Tiffin University 1
University of Dayton 1
Wellesley College 1
Wittenberg University 1

Continuous Improvement

June 1, 2018

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No matter how good we think we are doing or how strong we feel our system is performing – we must have a deep belief that we can improve. In order for this to happen, we need systemic ways to gather feedback and ideas.

We want Saline to be an inclusive, positive environment, where you know you make a difference and your voice is heard.

That’s why we offer Let’s Talk!, an innovative customer service solution that allows parents, students, employees and community members to be a part of critical school and district discussions. With Let’s Talk!, you can ask questions or submit comments whenever it’s convenient — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you have something to share about our school, go to Let’s Talk, and select the school, department or topic of your choice. We want to hear about whatever’s on your mind.

You may remain anonymous, but if you leave your contact information you’ll receive a thoughtful response within 48 hours.

Let’s keep Saline Area Schools the best it can be — one conversation at a time!

School Quality Survey: What We Learned

May 30, 2018

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Saline Area Schools is strongest when everyone in our community feels safe, welcome, and valued for their input.

That was a key finding from our recent School Quality Survey, which we conduct every year to better understand our educational community. The findings help us determine our strengths, identify opportunities for improvement, and build stronger schools.

I was pleased that 2,404 people participated in the survey, including 1,522 parents and guardians, 244 staff members, and 638 students in grades 6-12. This is a higher number of responses than last year. I truly believe that every voice matters when it comes to our district and schools. Because we heard from so many people, I’m confident we can make meaningful changes across the district.

Here are some top findings:

  • 97% of parents, 96% of staff members, and 83% of students who took the survey rated their school as excellent or good
  • More than 90% of participants said their school has high learning standards for all students
  • While 78% of participating staff members and 65% of participating parents and guardians said teachers successfully show how lessons relate to life outside of school, only 34% of participating students said the same
  • There is a noticeable discrepancy between student and staff member perceptions regarding teachers providing timely and helpful feedback on student work
  • 90% of staff members, 88% of parents and guardians, and 68% of students who took the survey said students receive the support they need to prepare for the future
  • While 87% of participating staff members and 78% of participating parents and guardians said students at their school receive support that addresses their individual needs, only 60% of participating students said the same
  • More than 84% of participants said their school is safe
  • 91% of staff members, 76% of parents and guardians, and 65% of students who took the survey said that students are treated fairly regardless of race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disabilities

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts. We’ll use all of the feedback to develop responsive campus and district action plans and make meaningful improvements throughout Saline Area Schools.
Have questions about the survey results or how we’re using them? Let’s Talk! I look forward to hearing from you!

Educational Research – I don’t trust much of it. Here is why.

May 22, 2018

JA

Recently, I had an opportunity to listen to a respected superintendent from Canada say something I have thought for a long time, “Much of the research in education is not replicable at scale.”  There are just too many variables to control when looking to replicate results across schools and communities that are vastly different from one another. When I hear about something that “works,” it often prompts me to dig deeper and try to assess similarities to our community of learners.  No program works equally well for every student – it is the creative work of skilled educators seeking to understand why and where an application or initiative fails or succeeds that is most valuable. Simply put, it is a process.

The other aspect of some educational research that is problematic is that the research often takes two correlated trends and presents it as one situation causing the other. The real explanation is usually much less exciting.  For example, consider the claim that students who take Advanced Placement courses in high school perform better in college. When looking at the research related to this topic, it is clear that students who take AP courses DO perform better in college.  However, taking AP courses in high school alone does not establish causality. Studies that merely find that students who are involved with the AP program in high school and subsequently perform better in college do not necessarily provide proof that the AP program caused the students to be successful in college. It is no surprise that the same motivated, hardworking, and academically advanced students who take AP classes in high school are still motivated, hardworking, successful students when they get to the university. So how can we know if it was the AP program that caused these students to do better in college?  To be clear, I am supportive of students taking a challenging course load aligned with their interests. If this means AP courses, great! However, many students that have not taken AP coursework in high school do very well in college, too.

Many of these research statistics that come from what is known as observational studies. In some cases, researchers have tried to use other factors like socioeconomic status to determine if they can see an impact.  This demographic approach is a good start to try to ascertain aspects of the student profile that could help inform us of issues related to student performance.

Moving educational research from correlation to causation would go a long way to eliminating hidden effects that prevent us from fully understanding the impact of our instructional decisions.  In the end, I feel that as educators – we have played a role in this push for “proof.” Learning and education is a human function. Trying to control it to the point of highly replicable results – while a noble goal – is just not realistic.  Focusing on the whole child and understanding each student’s unique needs is critical.

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