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Community Conversation – December 12th

November 28, 2018

Community Conversation

One concern I hear a great deal about (and deal with as a parent) is the issue of social media use by our students.  This is a complex issue and one that is not likely going away soon.  In an effort to share some thoughts and ideas, as well as, gather feedback from the community – I will be hosting a “Community Conversation” meeting to discuss the issue.

There are several aspects to the issue we can discuss – Do’s & Don’ts for young students.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

I will be hosting the conversation on Wednesday, December 12th from 9:30am- 11:00am at the Saline District Library, 555 N. Maple Rd. 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

Community Conversation – November 12th

October 29, 2018

Community Conversation

On October 24th I hosted the first “Community Conversation” meeting of the year with a focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It was well attended and we had an active discussion on the topic.  I also got feedback from community members that were unable to attend due to the daytime nature of the event and wanted to be a part of the discussion.

In an effort to continue this dialogue, I will be making time available on Monday, November 12th from 6:30pm- 8:00pm at Liberty School Board Room, 7265 N. Ann Arbor Road.

As with all “Community Conversation” meetings, there are a lot of issues we can discuss – district growth, school calendar, social & emotional health, and many more… You bring the topics.  With that said, I would like to again talk and explore the issue of diversity, equity & inclusion as it relates to our community and Saline Area Schools.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

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

New Kitchen…. Same Taste?

October 28, 2018

IMG_4926One of the most significant shifts that Saline has made as a school district in recent years has been the commitment to changing the physical features and layout of the various learning spaces. To visit any of the school buildings over the last several years, one might notice that the vast majority of the classrooms and learning spaces do not resemble a traditional classroom from the 19th or 20th-century. Gone are the neat rows of desks with the teacher delivering all of the instruction. Saline’s educational leaders have researched, visited, and then adopted methods for creating a variety of flexible learning environments within the brick-and-mortar classroom spaces. In some cases, those learning spaces are outside of the school buildings in  Visitors will now see a variety of furnishings that include different seating, writing surfaces, and teacher workspaces in varying types, and styles of arrangements. In very few classes will one see student desks in rows facing in one direction.

Many of these adjustments have been based on sound instructional strategies that have roots in educational research. Also, many of these approaches have been based on student feedback. An essential part of the redesign included gathering student input. It has been a critical part of the process for the adults to actively listen to the students regarding how they learn. In Saline, we have the good fortune to have the Foundation for Saline Area Schools to assist by providing financial resources. The community support is also evident and appreciated. These resources have afforded us the opportunity to purchase furniture, infuse integrated technology, and use old-fashioned elbow grease for painting and redecorating the classrooms to make them warm, welcoming, and inclusive of all learners.

The concern that I once had was that we would end up in a scenario where we had a new kitchen, but we were serving the same food, and our meal tasted the same. The notion that by changing furniture alone one could improve learning outcomes was a concern. Ultimately, the Saline faculty would have to learn how to utilize the new environments to positively impact student achievement. Considering what strategies, methods of delivery, and student input would be most impactful for their students was of primary concern.

Throughout the first couple months of the school year,  I have been watching and asking questions to try and assess the extent to which we have legitimately changed practices and improved student outcomes by leveraging and re-inventing the learning spaces.  Understanding that moving the needle away from standardized assessments has not been the only goal with this transition, the state-mandated evaluations have been, traditionally, the only way to measure student achievement. Instead, we are focused on the whole child and increasing each student’s level of engagement in their own learning.   I am confident that we are making progress to live the vision of Student-Led… Future Focused.

The GPA Debate – What is the value?

October 25, 2018

CompassWinners.2018I had an interesting conversation with a Saline parent the other day. This conversation was with a parent that has several children in the District, each of whom is very successful, in both academic and extracurricular endeavors. This conversation was similar to ones that I have had many times over the years, but it reminded me about the dilemma that many parents face (or perceive) regarding what is best for their offspring.

The conversation goes something like this,  “I want my child to take a challenging course load. However, I am concerned that if they don’t earn an “A,” it will impact their chances of getting into an elite university.”  This motivation is clearly fear-based, stemming from the potential disappointment of not gaining acceptance to a highly selective college.

When guiding students, are parents opting for the “easier” route in pursuit of the higher grade point average, or are students being advised to pursue a more rigorous course load regardless of the grade? There is no right answer, just as there is no “right” college for every student. Ultimately, students should be taught to take a course load that challenges and motivates them to learn, regardless of the final grade. However, this is not an option for many families. Family values are also a factor. Seeking and securing admission to a coveted university weighs heavily and is too often a deciding factor in course selection. If attending an elite, highly selective university is the family’s expectation, grades are important.

The admissions process at many selective colleges and universities involves a review of the applicant’s grade point average, test scores, community service, and extracurricular involvement, as well as the rigor of the student’s high school coursework. In a highly competitive academic environment, a student’s grade point average is important. However, does that number truly define who that student is? High school is a time for students to explore a wide variety of classes and to discover a passion for learning. Thus, students should be encouraged to try difficult courses without fearing the possible adverse outcome of a grade that is less than perfect.

I will say over the ten years I have been superintendent, and having handed out over 5,000 Saline diplomas, that I can point to only a few students whom I feel did not get into their chosen school based solely on a GPA concern. Having said that, in the long run, it is far more important that the student enrolls in a college or university and finishes the degree program. It is unfortunate that student interest and willingness to pursue a challenging course of study is muted by having to “play the game” related to the college admissions process.

Community Conversation – October 24th

October 21, 2018

Community Conversation

We are moving right along with the 2018-2019 school year, so it’s a good time to host a “Community Conversation” meeting. Over the last ten 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.

There are a lot of issues we can discuss – district growth, school calendar, social & emotional health, and many more… You bring the topics.  With that said, I would like talk about the issue of diversity, equity & inclusion as it relates to our community and Saline Area Schools.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

In an effort to continue this dialogue, I will be making time available on Wednesday, October 24th from 10:15am- 11:30am at Carrigan 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

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

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