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Shadowing a Student

May 13, 2017

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Near the end of April, I had the opportunity to “shadow” a 5th grade student at Heritage School.  This meant meeting him at the start of the day as he entered the school and staying with him throughout the day.  Classroom, hallways, specials, lunch, recess… the entire day.  If there was an assignment, I had to do it.

The idea came from a national program called the “Shadow a Student Challenge” and several Saline Area Schools administrators & teachers participated.  We recently debriefed about our experiences to learn more about what our students see and feel throughout the day.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • We have a positive culture. I witnessed kindness between students, and between students & staff.
  • For 4th & 5th grade students – movement is key.  They have a lot of energy and staying focused is enhanced with frequent movement.
  • Our teachers are excellent.  I witnessed lessons that were engaging, rigorous, well planned.
  • Time for students to work in groups is important – but it has to be focused and structured.
  • Groundies tag is fun and everyone cheats at it.
  • Fidget spinners are cool and annoy teachers.

Overall, it was a great experience and one that I intend to do each year.  I encourage other educators to take the challenge and learn what it feels like to be a student for the entire day.

School Quality Survey Now Open: Take it Here!

April 11, 2017

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Saline Area Schools is again offering parents, employees, and students the chance to provide feedback on district schools in its annual School Quality Survey. The survey asks for feedback about academic and student support, school leadership, safety and behavior, family involvement, and more.

By conducting this survey every year, we can gauge our progress, identify trends, and understand our ongoing needs.  As a result of previous surveys, we’ve been able to make tangible changes in our schools to directly address our community’s top concerns.

Among those changes were implementing training to ensure instructors connect learning objectives to relevant, real-world applications, and updating the food options at all school levels to better meet students’ needs.

Survey invitations and links were sent to potential (Parents, Students grades 6-12, and All Staff) participants on Tuesday, April 11. Parents can also take the survey by clicking {here}. The online survey is compatible with any computer, tablet, or smartphone, and it is offered in both English and Spanish.

The survey is open through Monday, May 1.

The district’s independent research partner, K12 Insight, is administering the survey and compiling the results. All responses are strictly confidential. No one in the district will be able to connect a participant to his or her answers.

For more information about the survey, contact me here.

Community Conversation – April 17th

March 28, 2017

Saline Area School Community,

With the school year well underway, I would like to schedule the second “Community Conversation” meeting of the 2016-2017 school year. Over the last nine years I have had the opportunity to host numerous “Community Conversation” events to learn more about what interested community members see as the strengths of Saline Area Schools, and what areas they felt we needed to focus attention on for improvement. Through these conversations and other opportunities, I have learned a great deal about how many of you see our district and it has helped guide me, along with the Board of Education, as we move forward.

In an effort to continue this dialogue, I will be making time available on Monday, April 17th from 10:00am- 11:00am at Carrigan’s Cafe, 107 S. Ann Arbor Street. Please stop by, say hello and bring any thoughts about the district you feel I should know.

If you can’t make it, feel free to use “Let’s Talk” and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,
Scot Graden

Strategic Framework vs Strategic Plan

March 25, 2017

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From time to time I get asked, “What is your strategic plan for Saline Area Schools?”  First, I respond with, “We don’t have a plan…. instead we have a framework.”  Using the term, “framework” to define the mission and direction for the Saline Area Schools gives me the opportunity to explain why a framework is more advantageous than a strategic plan in the current era of fast moving policy changes and technological advancements.  

A plan is defined as, “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.”  In theory, a strategic plan is a good thing for organizations like school districts to have in place.  Research shows that employees want to feel like they know the direction in which they are headed,  and that a sense of purpose helps stakeholders feel connected to the greater cause.  Most schools work on three to five-year plan cycles.

A framework is defined as, “a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text.” The framework provides the structure within which an organization can operate. Research also shows that employees prefer some degree of autonomy in their work. With a strategic framework, teachers are afforded the autonomy to experiment creatively with a variety of instructional strategies and learning spaces. In the case of Saline Area Schools, the framework is reviewed and revised annually.

A strategic plan tends toward short-term, actionable tasks. A strategic framework, while focused, allows the flexibility to adapt to changing global trends, policy mandates, and marketplace needs.

We see the benefits of a framework vs. a plan as these:

  • A framework is more flexible in adapting to marketplace changes.  Plans are often too rigid and precise to adapt quickly enough to meet emerging needs and shifts in policy.
  • Frameworks provide clear guidance without being too prescriptive.  Plans can easily become too detailed to allow staff the autonomy to make their own decisions.
  • Frameworks provide an umbrella for all organizational activities. Plans become so specific in some areas that staff do not see a connection to the greater outcomes.
  • Frameworks are easily understood and communicated.  Plans can become lengthy and cumbersome.

Here is a link to the Saline Area Schools’ current Strategic Framework.  The original framework was adopted by the Board of Education in 2011 and has been reviewed and revised annually.

 

Student Led…. Future Focused

March 20, 2017

Over the last few years, we started a conversation in Saline that would begin to transform the way we think about teaching and learning for our students. I shouldn’t be surprised, but in reflecting on where we are at as a school district we have already come so far.

Before I tell you a bit about the exciting work I’ve seen happening here recently, I wanted to make a brief announcement and send a “thank you”. Our administrative team decided from the outset of this year that we wanted to give our district’s new direction a name that we could all rally behind and be proud of. Moving forward, you’ll be seeing “Student Led… Future Focused” on communication from our district offices, and will notice it pop up on our social media. This term is replacing “Next Gen” for us.  It articulates our interest in student voice & choice in their learning and our push for constant progress.  We focused on the our compass-themed Learner Profile for inspiration. For you Twitter users, I encourage you to keep the conversation going using the hashtag #sascompass. Celebrate your students’ victories with 4-C’s instruction, or the successes you’re seeing while breaking down the walls of your classroom with that hashtag, and occasionally do a search for it to see the good news that will be rolling in.

And now, a quick story from a recent visit to Mrs. Ledford’s classroom at Woodland Meadows. I saw students working on projects that had chosen, collaborating and leveraging the technology tools in their classroom.  Students were free to find the spaces in the room that worked best for them.  I took the picture below as I was leaving the students were recording their thoughts.

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Mrs. Ledford’s Classroom at Woodland Meadows

Finally, I want to thank every one of you reading this for your enduring commitment to our kids in this time of exciting changes. Change can be hard. We knew this work would come with several challenges, but we also knew that we had the right people to meet those challenges head on and overcome them. So far, I can’t express how exciting it is for me to see everyone’s hard work starting to be reflected in our classrooms. Thank you so much for reminding me so many times on a daily basis of the amazing things you are all doing for our students!

Why no delayed start?

January 17, 2017

Delayed

The concept of a “delayed start” has long been debated in Saline Area Schools. Nearly 35% of the SAS students are transported to and from school each day on a tiered schedule. That is about 2400 riders per day. The tiered schedule accommodates both the secondary students’ bell schedule and the elementary buildings start times. Historically, Saline Area Schools has been one of the most cost-effective districts in the county with regard to transporting students. That fiscal responsibility is important, but also tied to the fact that each bus tackles multiple runs each day.

What is not as evident to the casual observer are the number of additional runs that each bus makes every day beyond arrival and dismissal. South West Washtenaw Consortium students are transported to job and work sites, students receiving Special Education services are transported based on programming, several secondary students are transported to job sites and programming throughout the city.

Scheduling of the numerous opportunities afforded to Saline Area Schools’ students makes transportation a complex matter. Timing of the runs is at best, difficult, yet the Operations department works tirelessly to ensure that all students arrive safely at their destinations.

Give that we are a district that does not have an issue with seasonal fog issues, starting school two hours late is not practical, timely, or cost effective for the Saline Area Schools. Most parents of young children do not have respite or temporary child care arranged to accommodate a delayed start to the school day.  As noted today, Monroe & Lenawee County schools called for “2 hour delays” and shortly thereafter moved to full closure.  

We do not take the decision to close Saline Area Schools lightly. However, when we do close the District, we want to do so in a manner that affords the safest option for all of our students.

 

 

Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season

December 20, 2016

Gift

I have posted this before – but since many families in our community are giving gifts to their children (our students) over the next couple weeks – here is my shameless plug to consider items that support our learning targets.

  • Books – You can never go wrong with books. Consider non-fiction titles like biographies, autobiographies, travel/geography, how-to, and science/technology options. (Magazine subscriptions can also be a good fit for non-fiction reading.)
  • e-Readers – Same as above but in Kindle, iPad, iPad Mini or Surface format.
  • Legos – Always popular and great for creativity.  They can also help build dexterity and develop math and pattern skills.  They also have a product called “Chain Reactions” that involve design and build activities.
  • Osmos – They are fun game that goes with an iPad and supports learning in key areas such as: creative problem solving, art, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
  • Technology – This area can be pricey, however, we are encouraging our students at many grade levels to bring their laptop, tablets, and smartphones to class to use as a learning tool. Google Chromebooks are a relatively inexpensive option for laptop and they work well on our network.
  • Hornet Gear – Okay, not educational – but kids and adults alike look good in Saline Hornet apparel.  Stop by 104 E. Michigan at the Edge Too – until 6:00pm on December 22nd.  If you can’t make it there – check out www.salinespirit.com.\

Some “Old School” gifts worth considering… science kit, art supplies, erector set, and telescope

Feel free to comment with other educational gift ideas.

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