The Superintendent of Schools is charged with the responsibility of establishing regulations and implementing Board policies. Under the Superintendent, the Offices of Business, Curriculum, Community Services and Personnel serve as a resource for the building principals, teachers and support staff to ensure quality education for students of all abilities enrolled in the Lawrence Public Schools.
With Spring break behind us we enter into the final quarter of the school year, the season for standardized tests and final units of study. This is the time for us to define our vision for the future and adopt the 2013-14 District Budget. As school districts throughout New York State face limitations caused by the 2% Tax Cap Levy, every expenditure must be carefully calculated and fully aligned with our shared values. Through this process the budget becomes a roadmap to our future providing a route that puts kids first and ensures effective programs are maintained and continue to flourish.
Based on these guiding principles our goal is to focus on programs for our advanced as well as our challenged learners. Our rich AP offerings, extensive Academic Support Services (now referred to as Response to Intervention), our wide range of Special Education programs, and enriched after school and extracurricular activities will be supported at levels that relative to a budget that New York State is forcing us to shrink, is proportionally higher than ever before.
We can take comfort in knowing that our AP offerings have not been reduced in over a decade, our AIS programs exceed the state requirement, and our athletics and arts programs are the envy of Long Island. Our Special Education program now includes a full transition/vocational component. We continue to expand offerings that provide appropriate settings within the district to address a wide range of learning disabilities so that our children do not have to go beyond the Lawrence Public Schools to obtain quality services. This is not merely a cost savings measure- it is what's right for kids.
The times in which we live necessitate difficult decisions and hard choices that strategically increase the effectiveness of our school system through re-structuring, re-organiziation, and re-scheduling. There is a perception that this approach is simply a way to disguise cut-backs to make them more acceptable, but this is a limited view that fails to take into account the need for institutions to adapt to changing times. This is best exemplified by the streamlining of our Central Office that has been re-structured for greater accountability, efficiency, compliance with all regulations, and promotion of best practices as related to transportation, special education, and business functions.
In addition to the academic and administrative components of our district, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy we have truly come to understand and appreciate the need for a well maintained infrastructure. Over the past five years, seventeen million dollars from our Capital Reserve Fund from the sale of Number One School was put into upgrading our facilities. As a result, all of our buildings are now handicapped accessible and ADA compliant. Extensive work was done to our track, fields, auditoriums, and science labs. With it all, we saw how quickly our infrastructure could be damaged with over 4.3 million dollars in Sandy related emergency repairs completed thus far. We now begin the second phase of storm repairs with replacement of damaged boilers and pumps to be completed by September.
Although the recent referendum for the sale of Number Six School was rejected, the Board of Education fulfilled its fiduciary obligation by bringing the highest bid forward. As we look at our roadmap to the future, the eventual sale will result in a multi-million dollar reserve for the district. This provides a level of confidence for the future, yet we need to make immediate sacrifices, similar to those experienced by school district throughout the state, to operate within the state mandated budget cap.
There will be several presentations and discussions including our upcoming Board Meeting, Town Hall Meeting, and a variety of public forums to provide every stakeholder with an opportunity to understand the impact of our budget decisions and to offer opinions on how these decisions may be best implemented. Our Lawrence Family has demonstrated great resilience! Our capacity for successfully addressing each and every challenge, while maintaining sharp focus on our children, is a model for any institution.
We are very happy to report that repairs to the high school electrical system are now complete and all classes will return back to the high school and middle school immediately after vacation on April 3rd.
There were many factors considered when determining the date of return. Most important was our goal to minimize disruption of instruction and reduce the stress level of the move. Teachers will pack on Monday, March 25th, the day before vacation and our custodians, movers, and tech crews will have more than a week to ensure a smooth transition. The district has been vigilant in expediting the repair process and preventing delays. Although our hope was to be back sooner - sooner is not necessarily better. With all that we've been through as Lawrence Family, it is important for us to bring our relocation effort to an end with a move that is made as easy and efficient as possible. Waiting for Spring break enables this to be accomplished.
I want to assure everyone that the district will continue to go above and beyond every protocol and inspection required to guarantee our health and safety before we return. Due to concerns that were raised, the district will perform extensive air quality tests. In addition to the company that does our air testing and the testing for most school districts on Long Island, the Lawrence Teachers Association is providing funding for an independent air testing company to run a second test. This level of testing will provide us with added assurance and peace of mind.
Once again, I offer my gratitude to everyone for the outstanding work and tremendous effort put forth during these most extraordinary circumstances. We’ve done much more than prevail. We have triumphed! We can now look forward to a return to our normal classroom settings having demonstrated great resilience and having strengthened the very nature of our interactions.
Wishing you Happy Holidays!
Reflecting on the Spirit of Lawrence
At a time when everything is evaluated by an exam, the Lawrence Spirit has been put to the hardest test in the history of our schools. For the record, our spirit is stronger than ever and was made evident by the manner in which all staff rose to the recent challenge. It is best reflected by Lawrence High School Senior Dee Dee Eisenberg's article that appeared as the cover story in the latest edition of the Mental Pabulum. It best captures the Spirit of Lawrence.
Emotions Stirred as LHS Moves to LMS
Absolute shock and incredulity overcame Lawrence High School on Tuesday, January 15th when Mr. Gary Schall announced that the high school would be temporarily closed for at least eight weeks and all students and faculty would report to the middle school on Thursday morning. Due to the disastrous Superstorm Sandy, the high school suffered numerous damages. As the months passed and inspections were taking place, more information on the conditions of the school were acquired. It was discovered that the flooding in the basement of the high school had caused the electrical wires in the school to be corroded by the sea water. What this means is simple—if electrical problems were to occur, it would be a highly dangerous situation that would endanger the school population. Because of these dangers, it was deemed a necessity for students and staff to move out of the building. Many students, parents, and staff were left confused and in disbelief, especially because of the abruptness of this procedure, giving little time for anyone to be prepared for such a drastic change. Parents, students and administration gathered at meetings held in the Lawrence Middle School auditorium to discuss the plans set for the following days.
Walking into the middle school on Thursday morning brought a rush of dormant memories back to mind for many of its former students. As one student explained, “It’s as though I’m seeing the same school, along with all the old memories it holds, from a different perspective now that I’m older.” Students of Lawrence High School, though with occasional mumbles and complaints, have adjusted well to their new setting. Alex Tse stated “At first I wasn’t too happy with the idea, but now I’m used to it.”
The student population has been through so much this year, with Sandy and its aftermath, it seems as though things are only getting more difficult. Although for most of the student body moving back to the middle school is not ideal, many are looking at the more positive side of such an unfortunate event. “Being in the middle school is kind of strange because it is our last year and spending it where we first became teenagers is a little strange…but I have to say it’s an interesting year. Not many seniors can say ‘I spent my senior year in the middle school’. It’s definitely a very memorable year.” Jeffrey Schwartz commented.
Jonathan Rutchik said “It’s okay being in the middle school. I feel that it’s going to be a bit more difficult for the teachers and students but we still have the same schedule; we’re just in a new school, so it’s not as horrible as I thought it would be.” Others, like Sergio Caceres, are thankful that the administration has been sympathetic to the students over these chaotic couple of days. “Senior year has been very unlucky so far with losing senior weekend and moving into the middle school. It feels as though I went back in time to four years ago. But at least cancelling midterms has made it easier for us. It takes away a lot of the stress.”
Jesse Friedlander commended the administration for their efforts as well. “I am impressed with the swiftness and rapidity at which the administration was able to integrate the high school into the middle school. Although we are dealing with hard times this is certainly impressive, although that does not make the situation any better for students or staff. But, regardless, we will all have to pull together and be strong, just as we did after the hurricane to get through this tragic thing. All in all, I think it will strengthen the Lawrence community and I am glad because what does not kill you makes you stronger.”
Teachers, like the students, have had a difficult time settling into the high school’s new home. Nevertheless, all the teachers have done their best to adjust and get through these hardships. Mr. Gofman even joked about the situation. “We’re going to stage a coup d’état and we’re going to make the 5th and 6th graders go to the high school and we’re going to stay here.”
Regardless of our opinions on the move to the middle school, however, it is an obstacle we cannot avoid. We will all have to find a way to cope and overcome this situation, one way or another. Although it will be an arduous task, the high school students and staff will surmount these difficulties set before them, as they have so proficiently done before. As Jodie-Ann Mullings stated “Even though it seems unbearable, I think we just have to make the best of this situation.”
New Year News
According to the calendar it's time for New Year resolutions, but we've just about reached the half-way point of our school year and are now well underway towards attainment of our goals.
Last week, we received a letter from Commissioner John King that provided official recognition of our fine work and granted SED approval of our Annual Professional Performance Review. We are now committed to instructional practice based on the newly adopted APPR, Marshall Rubric and Common Core Standards. As we begin 2013, it is time to reflect and act upon the similarities and differences between our traditional instructional approach and newly adopted methodologies. For this purpose, Dr. Pedersen has prepared a concise summary titled Connecting Effective Instruction that serves as a significant starting point.
Over the winter vacation, we had a team of 40 people who worked 24/7 to restore damaged areas at the high school with over a million dollars of repairs to our boilers, electrical system, auditorium, and crawl space. Air quality issues have been fully addressed with a completed restoration of the crawl space that includes final repairs of all steam leaks, removal and replacement of all pipe insulation, removal of all debris, and full sanitizing and containment of ground soil. The area is now in better condition than before the storm! Damaged seats, flooring, and walls in the auditorium have been removed and we are simply awaiting replacement. Building temperatures are now under control with the installment of an additional boiler. As we begin 2013, the Air Quality Control Committee is committed to ensuring that all areas of the high school are in better condition than before the storm.
Security throughout the district is now under full review with many new measures recently put into place. Lock down drills will be scheduled over the next few weeks to ensure our understanding and implementation of all necessary procedures. As we begin 2013, the District Health & Safety Committee takes on a new level of importance and will make recommendations for immediate and long term measures to heighten security.
Entering into the new calendar year we begin to look into the future through a fiscal lens as we prepare our budget for the next school year. Along with every other school district, we face unprecedented financial challenges. The state mandated 2% tax cap and the ever increasing expenses that are built into the budget will necessitate hard decisions. As we begin 2013, we are committed to open discussion as a means of establishing a collective vision for the future. Our next Town Hall Meeting, on January 8th in the LHS Little Theater will be focused on two agenda items- security and budget.
As we celebrate the New Year we recognize the challenges that are ahead, many of which are the result of recent events and others that have developed over time. Let us be resolute in our effort so in years to come our children recognize we were united in achieving all of our goals on their behalf.
Post Sandy Survival
1. Accept that this is a difficult time and give yourself time to adjust.
2. Try to be patient with changes in your life. It may be best to put off making major life decisions.
3. Be aware of your feelings by talking with others or just checking in with yourself.
4. Stay connected to family and friends. Work to overcome any impulses toward isolation.
5. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Try to eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and avoid alcohol and unnecessary medications.
6. Acknowledge that you may not be able to recreate life-as-usual. Establish new routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program.
7. Give yourself a break. Take some time off from the demands of daily life by pursuing hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
8. Help those you can. Helping others can give you a sense of control.
9. Spend more time with children and let them be more dependent on you. Reassure them they are safe and that trustworthy people are in control.
10. Realize that children's concerns may be very different than those of adults, so provide opportunities for them to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
11. Monitor adult conversations. Children listen to adult conversations and may misinterpret what they hear.
12. Maintain expectations for children by sticking to rules about good behavior.
13. Help children find ways to relax and calm themselves through play, exercise, and creative activities.
14. Provide safe opportunities for children to help others—helping others provides a sense of control and efficacy, and can help children feel better about themselves.
15. Seek professional help if your child is still experiencing difficulties more than six weeks after the hurricane.
The holidays have always been a stressful time. Now more than ever it's important to share the joy of the holidays!
After the Storm (From the 11/2/2012 Town Hall Meeting)
With all that has happened to us and all that lies ahead, it is comforting and so important for us to come together as Lawrence Family. The strength of our family bond enables us to overcome every obstacle and to accomplish all that is required of us and more. Facing disaster- looking it right in the eye forces us to be realistic, clearheaded and at the same time to be optimistic and to have faith that we possess the inner fortitude to see this through.
The biggest challenge has already been met by our friends, neighbors and family members who are first responders in the Fire Department, Police Department, EMS, and Auxiliary Police. They are our heroes and our role models.
This was made most evident when one of our teachers, Mrs. Magliaro visited me with her two young children and told me her story of the storm. Her husband is a volunteer with the Inwood Fire Department. While he was putting out fires and handling emergencies throughout the night of the hurricane she and the kids stayed at the firehouse where she listened to all the incoming radio calls for help. She said the worst feeling was to hear that help could not be given to so many in need because there were just too many fires and firefighters were too busy handling one emergency after the next, or unable to get to a location due to the severity of the floods. These disasters were in our own homes, even more wide spread in Long Beach, and even more devastating just 30 minutes away where the entire community of Breezy Point was burned to the ground. Regardless of our own personal loss we express words of gratitude because we understand the plight of others who are less fortunate. These are the words of heroes.
Now, facing the aftermath we are called to a level of heroism equivalent to that of our first responders. We begin our clean-up and deal with the loss of home and personal property. We teach our children to be strong and resilient. We take one hand to rebuild our home and the other hand to rebuild our neighbor's. We keep re-building until we get so tired that we have to put down our tools. At that moment it is time to lift our arms and put them around someone in need of a hug.
Power of Thought: Hitting Unseen Target
One of my favorite inspirational stories is about a great champion archer who invited his favorite disciple to watch a display of his skill. The disciple had seen this more than a hundred times before, but he nevertheless obeyed his teacher.
They went into the woods and when they reached a magnificent oak tree, the great champion archer took a flower which he had tucked in his collar and placed it on one of the branches. He then opened his bag and took out three objects: his splendid bow made of precious wood, an arrow and a white handkerchief embroidered with lilacs. The great champion positioned himself one hundred paces from the spot where he had placed the flower. Facing his target, he asked his disciple to blindfold him with the embroidered handkerchief. The disciple did as his teacher requested.
‘How often have you seen me practice the noble and ancient sport of archery?’ asked the great champion. ‘Every day,’ replied his disciple. ‘And you have always managed to hit the rose from three hundred paces away.’
With his eyes covered by the handkerchief, the great champion placed his feet firmly on the ground, drew back the bowstring with all his might – aiming at the rose placed on one of the branches of the oak tree – and then released the arrow. The arrow whistled through the air, but it did not even hit the tree, missing the target by an embarrassingly wide margin.
‘Did I hit it?’ asked the great champion, removing the handkerchief from his eyes.
‘No, you missed completely,’ replied the disciple. ‘I thought you were going to demonstrate to me the power of thought and your ability to perform magic.’
‘I have just taught you the most important lesson about the power of thought,’ replied the great champion. ‘When you want something, concentrate only on that: no one will ever hit a target they cannot see.’
This story is important to keep in mind as we begin to write Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s), the State determined District-wide growth goal setting process for the annual professional performance review. A Student Learning Objective is an academic goal for a teacher’s students that is set at the start of a course. It represents the most important learning for the year. It must be specific and measurable, based on available student learning data, and aligned to Common Core Standards, as well as other district priorities. Part of a teacher’s rating will be based upon the degree to which their goals were attained.
The SLO must include the following:
Student Population: which students are being addressed
Learning Content: what is being taught and which standard(s) will be addressed
Interval of Instruction Time: what is the instructional time (year, semester, quarter)
Evidence: what assessment or student work will be used to measure this goal.
Baseline: what is the starting level of learning for students
Target and HEDI Criteria: what is the expected outcome (target) by the end of the instructional period
HEDI Criteria: How will evaluators determine what range of performance meets the goal- Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective.
Rationale: why chose this learning content, content evidence, and target.
So, as great champion teachers we aim high and focus on the bulls-eye! Success is within the reach of every learner!
Let's Go Champs!
As Americans we stand proud after a summer of extraordinary achievements that reflect the mindset of champions and our hope for the future. Winning the medal count at the Olympics, and at the same time with the successful landing the Mars Land Rover Curiosity, we have evidence of all that makes America great! These achievements are of historic proportion and provide a springboard for individual and collective success in the future.
So, what makes a champion? In the broadest sense, it is a champion’s mindset. Great achievers have a vision of success and the ability to see the steps that lead to it. On the other hand, our mindset can ultimately limit the expectations we have for ourselves and others, and circumscribe our boundaries. It is our mindsets that determine whether or not we have the courage to challenge others and expand our horizons.
The other essential attribute of these champions is hope. Learned hopefulness suggests that empowering experiences- ones that provide opportunities to learn skills and develop a sense of control can help individuals limit the effects of problems caused by debilitating living conditions. Hopeful effort can overcome the psychological effects of learned helplessness related a perceived lack of control often a result of family circumstance and poverty. It provides each of us with insulation against anxiety. Hopeful thoughts teach our hearts to persevere, to never give up, to seek the possible inside of the impossible. Hope sets the stage for resiliency and transformation. Hope does not stop when we run up against a wall. Hope just sees through the problem until it discovers a solution. Hope always looks at the best. It never rests until it sees a problem transform into a resource for growth.
So, with pride we enter into a wonderful new school year with a champion’s mindset, hope, and the knowledge that success is within the reach of each and every learner.
In Our Children's Eyes
Looking into the future brings to mind suspicious images of crystal balls and fortune tellers but all we have to do is look into the eyes of a four year old to get a glimpse of all that the future holds. When we embrace the view of the world as seen by our littlest learners our vision for the future becomes clear. It serves as a call to action and inspires us to achieve a higher level of cooperation and partnership that is needed if we are to create the world our children deserve.
There is much to learn by observing how our young children interact. They accept each other’s differences more naturally than adults do. In a time of competition for limited resources, grown-ups struggle with acceptance of one another, and throughout the school community suspicion sets in. Open discussion and factual information help us to overcome this and can lead us to a greater level of understanding. So, with this in mind the following is basic information to frame our point of view:
There are currently 2975 students in the Lawrence School District who attend public school.
There are currently 4750 students in the Lawrence School District who attend private schools.
The Public Schools’ student population is 43% Latino, 27% White, 23% African American, and 7% Asian/Indian.
71 % of Lawrence Public School students live on or below the poverty level.
Lawrence is the 5th wealthiest community on Long Island.
Lawrence has the largest income gap in the nation between the wealthy and the poor.
We have the largest growing Latino and Orthodox Jewish community on Long Island.
All we have to do is look at the news and we see story after story of one community after the next, typically communities of homogeneous ethnicity, embroiled in political battles that are enflamed by fiscal constraints. Given our demographics, what chance do we have of being any different?
Perhaps it is because of who we are that the largest budget increase in years passed this year with a super-majority.
Perhaps it is because of who we are that the level of discourse at board meetings, town hall meetings and in the newspaper serves as a model for cooperation.
Perhaps it is because of who we are that the fewest number of grievances were filed this year between the Teachers Union and the District.
Perhaps it is because of who we are that careful study of the laws and state regulations provide us with the knowledge of all that is possible and all that is not.
Perhaps it is because of who we are that we learn from the mistakes of others as well as our own past mistakes to realize a brighter future.
Recently, this was made evident as we expanded our Universal Pre K to include not just one but 8 Collaborative Partners. This partnership includes 6 Yeshivas, the JCC, and the Five Towns Early Childhood Center which was previously our only partner. This is a wonderful step forward but as previously stated, we know that in a time of competition for limited resources grown-ups struggle with acceptance of one another and throughout the school community suspicion sets in. So, with this in mind the following is basic information to frame our point of view:
These Collaborative Partners have fulfilled all NYS requirements for Universal Pre K that was demonstrated through an extensive application process and ongoing district monitoring.
Transportation will be provided in accordance with NYS Law to all District 15 four year olds attending schools that are Collaborative Partners.
The additional transportation that will be provided will have no budgetary impact due to routing efficiencies that have reduced our transportation budget (approximately $450k) and enable us to add students to existing routes.
Having the right information helps to change our perspective on things currently, so that we can look into the future, but above all so that we can look into the eyes of all of our youngest children and know that we are doing everything possible to give them all that they deserve.
A Short Commencement Speech
Tonight words express all that is in our hearts. The most meaningful are the words of our graduates whose speeches capture a vision and our hope for the future. The words of adults are less meaningful at a moment like this. So perhaps, in the future you will remember that for this reason Mr. Schall gave a short speech.
My message is about taking risks. Graduates you know better than anyone, going off to college and gaining greater independence increases the potential for risky behavior to be life threatening - this you know-now keep reminding yourself of it! So, perhaps that is the second thing to remember from my speech. Use good judgment. Take care of yourself. At the same time, consider the difference between irresponsible risky behavior and carefully calculated risk taking based on thoughtful bold and decisive action, that requires confidence, courage and a leap of faith.
I would like to share a personal story about a risk that ultimately led me to this very moment. Years ago, two job opportunities presented themselves. I had to choose between a full-time job as a music teacher in another district or a part-time job as a music teacher in Lawrence. Having three young children at home the decision would seem to be a no brainer- you take the full time job.
Here came the risk. The Music Director in the other district was the same age as me and the Music Director in Lawrence was nearing retirement. I believed, that even from what most people would consider to be a small part-time job, I could prove myself, and upon his retirement become director. I used my best judgment, made a carefully calculated risk and took decisive action. I stand here today because of that decision.
I realize there was a huge gap between the vision I had for myself and the reality of the job I was taking. Facing that gap and the mountain to climb to make one’s vision a reality is overwhelming. It’s similar to the sensation experienced by climbers as they journey to the mountain top and are overtaken by depths below, the vast expanse that surrounds them, and the heights yet to be climbed. So graduates, go climb your mountain and if you become overwhelmed….
Remember that Mr. Schall gave a short speech. Remember to take care of yourself, use your best judgment, take some calculated risks, and when the journey becomes a bit overwhelming remember to do what the climbers do. Just take a deep breath, go step by step, and enjoy the view.
Our Impact Made Evident
With the clock quickly ticking away in our last month of school we find ourselves racing to complete culminating projects, tie the knot on our last units of study, and prepare students for their final exams. It is also time for professional evaluations and reflection on the achievement of our own professional goals. This year our district initiatives focused on Data Driven Instruction, Social-Emotional Learning, and the Common Core Standards. Through individual achievements and the efforts put forth in each department and school, the district has taken big steps towards making these initiatives part of our school culture.
Discussions centered on data driven instruction and student information have enabled us to monitor student progress and develop effective interventions. With APPR making stakes for tests even higher, the use of gap reports and item analyses have proven to be valuable tools for guiding and differentiating instruction. Through the close monitoring of student progress we have determined needs and developed interventions such as Science Lab Recovery and the Math Mentors programs. On a regular basis guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and administrators monitored progress for our at-risk students and to the best of our ability developed strategies to promote student success. We can be proud of our teamwork focused on student data and achievement.
District-wide there have been great strides made in the area of Social-Emotional Learning. All of the elementary schools now have new report cards that include an SEL section that supports the five competencies of SEL. At Number Two School the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today was used to develop various school wide positive behavioral supports. Number Five School adopted the "I'm a Fiver” motto to reinforce the character traits that support SEL competencies. At Number Four School, “Clifford’s Walk" and school wide positive behavioral supports allowed the school to win the state award of an emerging school of character. Additionally, the school has been cited as having a promising practice by the character education partnership and will receive an award at the national conference in the fall. The Middle School has had great success with the Second Step Program and the High School has continued to provide staff development on SEL and begun to infuse the work into their interactions with students.
Recently, I met a parent of a struggling student who expressed her appreciation for all the attention that has been given to her son. Consistently, she received calls from each of his teachers, the department heads, and various members of the school support team. She felt that she was kept in the loop about everything and communicated her gratitude for the warmth and professionalism of the staff, but most of all for the academic and personal support her son received in school. Despite his struggles, she knows her son is happy in school and has a great relationship with his teachers. Her last remark summed it all up, "I’m glad that my son goes to a school with high standards and high expectations, and I know he's getting the help he needs."
These words represent the feelings of so many parents, students, and community members who have voiced their praise and support for our efforts, and serve as evidence of the impact we are having with our initiatives district-wide. The hard work of our entire staff is recognized and appreciated!
Appraisal's Done Walt's Way
The Music Department Concert Performance Trip to Disneyworld has become one of our great Lawrence traditions. Teachers, parents, and students are now planning for next year's 8th trip to Disney, making it possible for more than 1000 students to experience Disney magic since 1999. The meaning and significance of this learning experience for our students has been made evident to every staff member who has ever taken part in the trip. For many students it's their first time on an airplane, or in a hotel, or the first time traveling without their family. It provides an opportunity for students to perform on one of the great world stages and learn life lessons that will have everlasting impact. Even though it is not measured by the state we believe this to be relevant and important.
There is much to be learned from the inspired creativity, disciplined teamwork, and the process for managing passion and innovation, all part of the Disney trademark that has been woven into the fabric of our society. Disney has revolutionized the art of the organization, breaking intellectual frameworks while adhering to a system of beliefs that promotes dreaming, the testing of dreams against beliefs, the daring required to take risks, and the realization of a vision to make dreams come true. In Walt's own words, "Dream, believe, dare, do."
There is also much to be learned from the Disney management processes related to supervision, evaluation, and appraisal of staff. Disney employs over 137,000 people world-wide. Many books have been written on the topic, in addition to training programs established by Disney to promote effective business and organizational practices. One such book is the Disney Way by Bill Capodagli. The following excerpt is relevant to us as we deal with our own professional appraisal system:
One of the favorite devices of human resource departments is the performance appraisal. These appraisals are, in truth, harmful to morale and unnecessarily costly for an organization to administer. Research into major companies provides evidence of carefully structured performance appraisal systems. Employees are evaluated in depth by a supervisor on an annual basis and supervisors spend a considerable amount of time and thought on performance appraisals.
The researchers spoke with supervisors and employees of the companies. When asked about the performance appraisals, everyone without exception, agreed that (1) performance appraisals were a waste of time; (2) people dreaded the entire ritual; (3) the process did not result in behavioral change; and (4) the outcome was influenced by the recentness of performance. The reaction to performance appraisals is universally negative. They are described as the biggest barriers to quality improvements. Here's why. Most people believe that they are above average performers. When their appraisal evaluation rates them as average or below, they feel discouraged and misunderstood, and the quality of their work often suffers.
As the late W. Edward Deming, considered architect of total quality management once described it: The effects are devastating. Such a system substitutes short term performance for long-term planning, wrecks teamwork, and nurtures rivalry. It builds fear and leaves people unfit for work weeks after receipt of the rating. In the final analysis, performance appraisals may tempt a worker to try to please the boss at the expense of other workers or more important the customer. Such efforts can undermine teamwork as well as job performance.
Last year, Lawrence administrators and teachers designed and agreed on an Annual Professional Performance Review for one year until NYSED further clarified and developed their guidelines. As these guidelines continue to be sent down by the state, the one thing that everyone agrees on is the lack of clarity, room for interpretation, and the huge task in front of us to make it all relevant to teaching and learning.
As we continue to move forward to develop our district APPR, it is important to uncover pitfalls that may hinder us. At the center of our appraisal process it is important to keep in mind Walt's organizational approach which provides an opportunity to the employee to create a personal-professional development plan with desired outcomes and an evaluation process jointly defined by employee and supervisor. We all want accountability built into our system but it must be developed in a manner that in addition to the measurable requirements, facilitates the achievement of life lessons that will have everlasting impact. Even though it is not measured by the state we believe this to be relevant and important.
A Learning Holiday
As we look closely at learning standards and the various instructional approaches that become part of our classroom practice, the methodology for teaching students a passion for a subject is understated. Maybe it's because passion cannot be measured with statistical reliability or formalized in an evaluation. We are able to model it and certainly we can motivate students, but that is different, especially when it involves extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic factors. Perhaps passion is something that cannot be taught but is only made possible by cultivating it.
Project based learning provides an effective means for intrinsic motivation, development of deeper understanding of subject matter, and ultimately cultivation of passion for a specific endeavor. It is made most evident in areas such as science, social science and psychological research, the performing and visual arts, athletics, DECCA, and culinary arts-all providing an opportunity for extended time on task and the long-term development, mastery, and application of skills and knowledge. There are many variables at play but project work in these areas appears to have great potential for cultivating passion in a range of students with varied academic abilities.
Pi Day, a day devoted to mathematics, provided an opportunity to engage students in the exploration of mathematics and how it affects different parts of our lives. This event was created by High School Math Chairperson Lisa DePaola and Middle School Math/Science Chairperson William Moss and Elementary School teacher Anita Shevins, who brought students from varied academic achievement levels together to showcase their accomplishments. While students worked on their projects, they began working harder in class; it gave the students a sense of achievement and a taste of success that they wanted to continue to have in their mathematics course work. Lawrence High School and Middle School students exhibited their skills and love of mathematics through their projects, which they were excited to share with the younger generation of students and the community. Many school departments, besides the math department took part in Pi Day to help spread a passion for math. These departments included English, Art, Life Skills, Computer art/Graphics, Culinary, and the SHARP Program. Besides projects, the students created and facilitated math activities for all academic levels (elementary, middle, and high school).1
Students provided positive feedback about the event and were thankful and appreciative that the district hosted this event for the first time. It was wonderful to see the excitement that math created in the students. They were still talking about it the next day at school to their teachers and peers. The students have already expressed ideas for next year and cannot wait until next year's event. 2
Pi Day is now a favorite holiday, celebration, and a model for learning! In our struggle to find time for covering state required curriculum we feel forced to adhere to an instructional time line and oftentimes sacrifice depth for breadth. But at what price? Perhaps, that which cannot be taught through direct instruction can be achieved through opportunities that cultivate and celebrate the passion students need to succeed. We could all use more learning holidays. Happy Pi Day!
1,2: informed by Lisa DePaola (email, March 16, 2012)
No Opt Out Technique
One of the problems we face as teachers is the temptation to evaluate what we do in the classroom based on how clever it is, how it aligns with a larger philosophy, or even how gratifying it is to use, not necessarily how effective it is in driving student achievement. One consistency among high performing teachers is the expectation that it's not okay for students not to try. Everybody learns in a high performing classroom, and expectations are high even for students who do not have a history of successful achievement.1
The book Teach Like a Champion describes this as No Opt Out technique. It is based on a sequence that begins with a student unable to answer a question followed by the student answering that question as often as possible. The technique involves going back to a student who was at first unable or unwilling to provide an answer to a question and asking him to repeat the correct answer after another student in the class has provided it. In doing so, you eliminate the incentive for the student not to try. Opting out, (shrugging and saying, "I don't know") now saves him no work since he will have to answer in the end anyway. It also exposes the student to a simple iteration of what successful learning looks like: you get it wrong, you get it right, you keep moving.2
Over time you normalize this process and ask more and more of the student. The result is powerful not only for individuals but also decisive in building a classroom culture where effort replaces the disinterested shrug as a behavioral norm. To some, this technique might be scorned as demeaning, injurious to self-esteem-even though it clearly conveys the opposite-an abiding respect: "I know you can."3
Let's keep these ideas in mind as we continue our discourse about teaching and learning with the mutual goal of raising the level of achievement for all.
(1,2,3) Doug Lemov, Teach Like A Champion (Research Press Publishers)
Teach Like A Champion
Some of the most rewarding moments for us as educators are when we overcome all odds to put our struggling learners on the path to academic success. Often these students come back to us after they graduate to validate this achievement and express their gratitude. Yet, with our ability to achieve these successes we face a challenge that is greater than ever before. The achievement gap between the poor and the privileged has never been wider.
This is made evident in schoolwork, homework, on tests, and on the faces of the struggling learners sitting directly in front of us in our classrooms. Our account, witness, and battle to overcome failure affect us deeply. Keeping this in mind, it is rare for a statistic to affect us more than this face to face experience, but when we go beyond the individual face of failure and look at it systemically we are made aware of a startling fact. In the second quarter of the year, 210 out of 950 Lawrence High School students (22%), failed two or more core subjects.
We look for the root cause and tend to point fingers at parents, the state, and each other, or we say that expectations are unrealistic. But no matter what the cause, none of us can accept a 22 percent failure rate. This is our call to action!
Based on recommendations in the NYSED School Quality Review of the middle school and high school, our first step is to provide professional development, in a variety of forms, that focuses on developing new strategies, interventions, and techniques that address the needs of our most challenged learners. The district Staff Development Committee made up of teachers and administrators has outlined immediate steps leading up to the next Staff Development Day with professional discourse focused on our instructional approach.
To continue our traditional approach along with an expectation of achieving different results is simply not logical. Teaching techniques will be presented through professional development and discussed in a concrete, specific, and actionable way that allows for immediate implementation. These techniques may not be glamorous but have been demonstrated to work in low income-high achieving schools. Videos, such as those from the Teaching Channel now posted weekly on our website can serve as a window into the classrooms of the most effective teachers and as a way to isolate the microtechniques that make the difference in student learning. We will also introduce a new taxonomy of effective teaching practice through the book and accompanying video, Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov.
Great teaching is an art. In other arts-painting, sculpture, the writing of novels- great masters leverage proficiency with basic tools to transfer the rawest of material (stone, paper, ink) into the most valued assets in society. This alchemy is all astounding because the tools often appear unremarkable to others. Who would loom at a chisel, a mallet, and a file and imagine then producing Michelangelo’s David.1
Great art relies on a mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study. Although lots of people conjure unique artistic visions, only those with artisan skill can make them real. Throughout his life the great Picasso kept a notebook like every student keeps. His sketches and notebook bore witness to his mastery of fundamentals and a habitual need to refine his skills.2
The same holds true for the tools of the teaching craft-the tools necessary for success in the most important part of education serving students born into poverty. There are no short cuts to preparation. We must continually sharpen a discrete set of tools, building systems of classroom culture and instruction, brick by brick.3
(1,2,3) Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion (Research Press Publishers)
No one needs to be told about the harsh financial times in which we live. It is evident everywhere on Long Island, in New York State, and throughout the nation. We are facing a new fiscal reality that has and will continue to impact each and every one of us in the communities in which we live, as well as in our homes and professional lives. In Lawrence we are exploring every possible option to minimize the impact that this has on our students and staff. It requires careful thinking, planning, discussion, open lines of communication, and a sense of optimism as we move forward to meet the challenge.
As it is in our own families, we assess priorities, choices, and values when preparing our school budget. We are committed to researching and developing our plans through ongoing discussion with staff, parents, students and community. Having received considerable input regarding a range of options, we are ready and prepared to make a recommendation to the Board of Education for developing an eight period schedule at the high school and establishing a university partnership for our universal pre-k program. Each of these initiatives will help us to maintain the integrity of our programs over a sustained period of time and position us for the future.
Our goal is to make decisions that reflect our shared vision and serve the best interest of our students. These initiatives, focused on the high school and the pre-k, change the manner in which instruction is provided for our youngest and our oldest learners but will ultimately have an impact district wide. We anticipate a first run of the high school schedule and the selection of a pre-k partner institution by the second week of March. Through attrition, re-deployment of staff, and a number of other options under consideration we will attempt to minimize the impact that these changes have on staff.
As we move forward, administration is committed to keeping everyone informed through school, department, town hall, and board meetings, as well as through ongoing communication from the central office. Please reach out to your building administrators, union leadership, or directly to me with your input, questions, or concerns. Change is always difficult but by understanding it we will arrive at a positive outcome. Working together as a school community I am confident that it will be achieved.
During this time of gifts and presents we think about that which is given and received. The gift we tend to remember most, whether given or received, is the experience that brings us into present moment. Some call it being in the zone, others call it being absorbed or in the groove. Some psychologists have identified it as mindfulness or the mental state of flow. We might identify this in a student possessing a good work ethic or self-discipline. In pedagogical terms it is referred to as metacognition. Regardless of the label it is the gift of presence of mind.
By tuning in to mental processes we are able to observe the complex interplay between our thoughts and feelings rather than being subject to them. Mindfulness lets us absorb the richness of the moment instead of going through life with half of our attention on the past or future or our own mental chatter. The self-knowledge that comes from mindfulness lets us be more intentional in choosing priorities and actions that fit our life and professional goals.
Being in the moment and maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. Good lesson planning reflects a thorough understanding of metacognition, keeping students in the moment, and an understanding of how our students learn.
Metacognition is defined as "cognition about cognition", or "knowing about knowing." Writings on metacognition can be traced as far back as the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It can take many forms including knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving, planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task, and understanding memorization functions and mnemonic strategies.
By being present, having presence of mind, and through awareness of others and ourselves we can enhance our lives and our journey together as life-long learners. Thinking back on childhood, material gifts come and go with time, but the gift of knowledge is forever!
Wishing everyone a great holiday, winter break, and a New Year filled with health, happiness, and peace!
Already at the end of the first marking period with Thanksgiving bringing us into the winter holiday season several things come to mind. First and foremost is the question, where does the time go? This annual reminder of how quickly time passes brings to light a second idea we refer to in school as the fierce urgency of now. Lastly, of course this is the time to reflect upon all that we are thankful for.
As we get older the seasons seem to go by faster and faster. As parents we watch kids grow up right in front of our eyes. As educators we carefully monitor the passage of time and align instruction with the calendar to keep up with the rapid pace required to meet curriculum timelines, complete units of study, and prepare students for required tests and assessments. This month the high school and middle school gave uniformed quarterly department exams in English and math. Based on the District's Academic Plan, the data from these exams were carefully analyze d and discussed as a means of informing instruction and addressing the needs of individual students. Realizing the fierce urgency of now, teachers and administrators throughout the district collaborated on a deep and thoughtful student/teacher performance analysis to guide us into the next quarter. This is reflective of a new educational approach for which we extend our gratitude.
With kids growing up so fast, serious issues that unexpectedly arise frequently require an urgent call to action. A few weeks ago we held our second Town Hall Meeting to talk about the steps we are taking to address critical issues facing students, parents, and schools throughout the nation. Realizing the fierce urgency of now we formed a new student anti-drug advocacy group that led an open and honest dialogue with members of our school community. These students serve as role models and reflect the leadership of the future for which we extend our gratitude.
In these harsh times we succeed through the strength of our families, schools, and community. We recognize that we must look towards each other. We can be proud of the efforts made to provide all children with the foundation to succeed in the future. We can be proud of the efforts made to make the Five Towns into one united community. We come from every part of town, from every background and upbringing, serving each other in so many different ways and reflecting all that we are thankful for.
Jobs and Education
Steve Jobs transformed our view of the world and earned his place in the history books as a true American hero who provided a foundation for ongoing advancements in technology that continue to enhance our lives. He put information at our fingertips, impacting the development of programs and the utilization of data in our schools, and at the same time caused a dramatic shift in the manner in which people interact throughout the world. Apple reflects the best in corporate culture serving as an organizational model that is the epitome of American ingenuity.
In the old days, schools were seen as a training ground for the workforce, modeled after an assembly-line factory, for the mass production of students who think, act, and work alike. Steve Jobs established a corporate working environment based on life-long learning, creativity, teamwork, collaboration, and the utilization of technology as an informational tool, and as a means to enrich the work culture. The Apple corporate model is anything but traditional and something to be emulated by our schools.
Steve Jobs and Apple not only reflect our rapidly changing society and provide us with the tools for dealing with it; they have been the number one catalyst for change itself. While kids thrive on change it presents a challenge for many adults. For schools to be relevant to the students of today and to prepare them for the future we must not only embrace change but also offer our personal and professional contribution to it.
In Lawrence we are all about change! Some even say we are the New Lawrence! We now actively collect, analyze, and use data as a means to inform instruction and serve as a basis for establishing targeted interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students. We now offer and promote the use of the latest digital remediation programs for at-risk students, as well as enriched on-line college courses for advanced students, and virtual business courses available for all. We promote community involvement in academic discourse using our online discussion forums.
Initially schools faced the challenge of acquiring technology resources. Now in our possession, we face the challenge of using these resources effectively, all in a working environment that develops habits of mind capable of not only dealing with change, but like Apple - making change happen!
Staying the Course
There are few things in life as exciting as the fresh start to a school year. It is a moment of enthusiasm, inspiration, and vision for all that is possible. The challenge is to sustain, maintain and build upon that feeling day after day as the year moves forward.
One of our extraordinarily talented Lawrence High School seniors, Katie Miller recently had the honor of singing the National Anthem at the opening of a Yankee game. I was at the stadium when she walked onto the field to perform in front of 50 thousand fans and the members of the legendary Yankee team. As she hit the high note of the National Anthem it felt as if she belted a grand slam in the bottom of the 9th to win the World Series. As it is with the first day of school or any of the high notes in life, the challenge is to sustain that feeling so that it serves as a source of daily inspiration.
With a clear plan and articulated goals that drive our activities and serve as a basis for thoughtful action, every day brings a fresh start and a realization of new possibilities. The Lawrence Public Schools Academic Plan is a call to action for such a purpose. These days everyone is busy and works hard, but are our efforts getting us to where we want to go? A well prepared plan serves as a roadmap to help us reach a desired destination.
Our academic plan puts student data at our fingertips so that we can keep each child engaged in meaningful school work. Our plan establishes a framework for professional interaction that supports the social and emotional development of every child. Our plan creates opportunity for the development of strategies and interventions to meet the needs of our challenged learners. Our plan uses technology as a resource to promote higher levels of achievement and keeps us current in today's world.
This is our roadmap. There will be bumps in the road and unavoidable delays but we will stay the course. At times we will lose track of how far we' ve traveled but we'll take a look back at where we came from and recall the excitement of that fresh start. When success is achieved, when we hit our high note, when we belt it out of the park-it's inspiration for planning the next part of the journey.
Many factors influence academic achievement and a child's overall success in school. As educators we rely heavily upon research and statistics, but good old life experience is usually our best guide. My brother Harold, a PhD. from M.I.T., is a rocket scientist and a leader in our nation's Airborne Laser Defense System-the Star Wars Program. He and I agree that determining the factors that most influence academic success is not rocket science, but certainly more challenging to deal with than pure scientific variables.
The single greatest influence on academic achievement is a child's family life. Statistics related to socio-economics, and the parents' level of education-specifically the mother, show the strongest association with competency levels. An achievement gap results when family issues arise, related to the basic needs of clothing, physical and mental health, nutrition, and shelter. As unemployment reaches 9.5%, and our government struggles with an unprecedented national debt, families throughout the nation are in crisis. We are well positioned in the Five Towns but nonetheless must aggressively address these issues as they directly or indirectly impact so many of our children.
For years, these issues have served as an excuse for ineffective action. There are no more excuses for us! There is no more finger pointing!! These issues are now part of a daily challenge that must be addressed systemically by every teacher, counselor, administrator, parent, relative, neighbor, and community member. We are working on a comprehensive educational plan with specific goals, timelines and expected outcomes. Our first Town Hall Meeting, on September 15th, will provide an introduction to the plan and an opportunity for the public to provide input to help move it forward.
A plan is all well and good but where do we begin? We begin now by changing the expectations we have for our children and the manner in which we interact with them. We change the nature of our conversations with children and with each other. We take responsibility for the words we use and the way we talk about each other. We take time from the internet, facebook, television, and video games to spend meaningful time with our children. When we ask, "what was doing in school?" and the child says, "nothing"-we do not accept that answer and explore every possible means for the child to express him or herself. We read and we have our children read! We must create a positive and supportive environment in the classroom, hallways, home, and public places.
Where do we begin? The easiest place to begin is with a smile given to every child! It's not rocket science but clearly a greater challenge.
After a year of transition, I am so proud and excited to now serve the children, parents, and community of District 15 as the new Superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools. Over fifty years ago, as a little boy I drove with my family from our summer bungalow in Far Rockaway to the Five Towns, to go bowling at Falcaros on Rockaway Blvd, or to eat at Shores on West Broadway. As a Brooklyn boy, I was in awe driving through this beautiful neighborhood, past what is now the majestic Lawrence Middle School. Years later, my wife and I moved to Woodmere with our three children and I learned about the great history and culture of the Five Towns, as well as the ongoing sense of family and pride shared by the diverse groups in our community.
I often reflect on those who years ago, built our great schools, as well as those on our current board of education who have enabled the Lawrence legacy to continue on a positive path into the future. Each in their own time has demonstrated the wisdom and fortitude required to take decisive action that has ensured a thriving educational system. Now, schools across the nation face fiscal challenges not seen since the Great Depression. Fortunately, the recent consolidation of our schools has put us in a unique position to weather this storm. With funds from the sale of Number One School that provided $17 million for capital improvements to our schools, our facilities have been totally upgraded at no additional expense to the tax payer. Over the last five years, with a significant reduction in operating expenses and the tax relief achieved through this consolidation we have the lowest tax increases on Long Island. All achieved while maintaining programs, Lawrence serves as a model for fiscal responsibility.
Most important, we possess a focus on education and programs that address the challenge of our highest achievers, as well as those who are struggling academically. The recent addition of a Debating Class, Virtual Business Class, Online Credit Recovery Course, and a variety of additional clubs reflect programs that serve learners having a wide range of age and ability levels. We are keenly aware of the challenges facing the youth of today. We will stay focused on anti-bullying, and drug and alcohol prevention, as we maintain a zero tolerance policy for those students who attempt to bring the influences of the street into our schools.
Lawrence always had a reputation for being the trend setter in education. As we roll-out our new website with new capabilities for on-line community and school based discussion groups, I look forward to sharing our comprehensive district educational plan. Using on-line forums as well as a series of traditional town hall meetings beginning in September, the school community will have numerous opportunities to provide input and have questions addressed by district administration. The Lawrence Schools, the heart of a cultural mosaic, will serve as a catalyst and provide the means for uniting our Public Schools, Private Schools, Houses of Worship, Government Agencies, and Civic Organizations, so that we harness the talents and resources of our great community to serve our mutual goal-providing the best education for every child.