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Blog: Thursday, May 26, 2016

Honoring Officer Tarentino

“The Board of Selectmen declared Friday, May 27th 2016 a town-wide day of mourning to remember the life, service and sacrifice of Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. …The Board of Selectmen encourages the community to continue to honor his life and remember his service.”

Many will not be able to attend Officer Tarentino’s funeral but all can find ways to honor his life and remember his service and such actions should not be limited to one day.

Officer Tarentino has been described as:

  • a dedicated and professional police officer who strongly believed in public safety and public service
  • an individual who made a positive impact on the department and the community
  • dedicated to “the greater good”
  • a dedicated husband, father, son, colleague, and friend
  • someone with a constant smile and infectious laugh
  • someone who always made your day better
  • a super nice guy with a super nice family
  • someone who kept an eye out for an elderly neighbor

All will chose his or her own way to honor this fallen hero but I suggest that the best honor is to walk as he walked. In the words of Charles Caleb Colton, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. “

If you are an educator, be a dedicated and professional educator who strongly believes in public service.

If you are a town employee, be one that makes a positive impact on the community.

As a student, parishioner, doctor, or lawyer, be dedicated to “the greater good.”

Be a dedicated husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, colleague, and friend.

Wear a constant smile and bellow an infectious laugh.

Do something on Friday and everyday to make someone’s day better.

Be a super nice guy (or gal) with a super nice family.

Keep an eye out for your neighbors.

Officer Tarentino’s devastated mother “denounced a dangerous, growing culture of disrespect for law enforcement.” I see this as well as a growing culture of general disrespect - disrespect for educators, leaders, public employees, unions, and others. As we go through this difficult time, let’s be sure that we don’t find ourselves falling into negativity and disrespect. The positive outpouring of support for the Tarentino family and pride in our community should become the norm; anything less does not show honor to this fine man.

Finally, let’s all take the Leicester Police Department’s advice “simply remembering that thousands of police officers go out and do a difficult job the best that they can every day. Ron was one of those officers, so in his memory support a police officer today, tomorrow, next month, next year and in the years to come.”

 

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 7:54 PM | 0 comments

 

Blog: Monday, May 9, 2016

 Average

In a few weeks I’ll be certifying that the young men and women of the Leicester High School Class of 2016 have met the requirements for graduating Leicester High School. They have learned to read, learned a 2nd language, built their art and music skills, and learned to work together.
Among the many instructional goals they have met, all had to demonstrate an understanding of statistical variability and show that they are able to summarize and describe distributions. Perhaps the most widely used and abused statistical tool is the mean - or average of a distribution. Even before 6th grade, when this is formally introduced, students have had their grades averaged and their attendance averaged, and have had their weights and heights compared to average.

Average is defined as the sum of a collection of numbers divided by the number of numbers in the collection. It’s the most widely used measure of central tendency. When we get our scores from state testing, the first thing we do is to compare ourselves with a state average. We do the same for attendance, height, weight, and almost every measure we have of ourselves or our schools. It sounds so intuitive - to compare ourselves with some average, but why do we do that?

Is the average what we aspire to? The graduates of Leicester High School are setting on a course to become nurses and teachers and engineers. Do they aspire to be an average nurse, an average teacher, or an average engineer? Would you want to go to an average doctor or an average financial planner?

I love data and firmly believe that looking at our data on a regular basis will help us to monitor our progress and make timely changes to continue on a path of improvement but in addition to being careful not to set the bar at average, we must also be forewarned that averaging takes all the extraordinary out of the group being averaged. Consider the class of 2016.

  • Average AP U.S. Government score: 1.6 (not so great); yet, one senior scored a 5 - the highest score possible.
  • Average Math MCAS score for the class was 254 - Proficient; Yet, a number of our graduates scored in the advanced category, one scoring a high of 272.
  • Average high jump: 4' 4" One of these seniors jumped 5 feet.
  • Average softball batting average: .302; One of our senior's batting average: .500
  • Average number of home runs for softball players: 2; One of our senior's number of homeruns: 13
  • Average boys soccer goals per season: 5; One senior's number of goals for a season: 15

Every member of the class of 2016 is extraordinary. Some of their extraordinaryness has already peeked through and others have yet to be discovered. Graduates shouldn't worry if they think that nothing they've done thus far has been identified as extraordinary. As someone who has gone to their 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, and 30th high school reunions (we had a tight class), at every reunion different graduates have emerged as supperlatives. I’ve only felt sorry for my fellow graduates who peeked during the high school years and then went into a downward spiral.

When we look back 30 years from now and we average all of the Class of 2016's accomplishments, we will most likely find that they, as a class, will have an average income with an average size family living in an average house. When we look at each of them individually, we will see extraordinary. It’s now their job to go out into the world and decide how they want to distinguish themselves.

 

Posted by Judy Paolucci | 1 comment

 Blog: Tuesday, March 1, 2016

 

Professionally Speaking… A Report from the AASA Conference, Part 2

Running a district, whether it is a 1200-student district or a 25,000-student district, requires diverse skills and knowledge in the areas of finance, law, politics, psychology, management, literacy, technology, curriculum, statistics, and instruction. It’s a challenge to keep up with innovations in each of these fields through reading, networking, and attendance at state and national meetings and conferences. Among the many sessions offered at the recent AASA conference, I attended a number that expanded my knowledge base and will directly influence my ability to contribute positively to the schools and students in Leicester.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and provides a new blueprint for school improvement efforts throughout the country. The act includes a number of sections that provide funds that trickle down to districts through state education agencies. Title I provides funds in proportion to the amount of economically disadvantaged students in a district and is meant to support supplemental interventions for students not meeting academic expectations. Title II focuses on professional development and Title III supports programs for English Language Learners. In the past, Title IV went toward technology programming.

In a session facilitated by Dr. Kevin Maxwell of Prince George’s County Public Schools, environmental advocates from Project Learning Tree and the North American Association for Environmental Education discussed the opportunity to use Title IV funds for advancing environmental literacy. ESSA includes language in Title IV—21st Century Schools—that districts can use for funding of learning experiences including STEM learning, civic engagement, and work and career readiness. While we know that the relative amount of funds will be based upon the same formula as Title I, at this time we do not know if the grants will be entitlement grants (districts will be entitled to their formula amount provided that their plan meets grant guidelines) or competitive grants. We are hoping that the grants will be entitlement not because we don’t want to compete but because Leicester isn’t quite poor enough, large enough, low performing enough, diverse enough, or urban enough to secure most competitive state and federal grants.

AASA general sessions were characterized by big name speakers that transcend the field of education. In “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance,” Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, gave an engaging presentation on the power of positive culture. It’s a delicate balance to both remain dissatisfied with the status quo and maintain a positive outlook. Achor explains that a positive outlook can change the trajectory of an organization’s future. Happiness, he posits, is not pleasure; happiness is the joy you feel as you move toward your potential. Moreover, happiness can be spread quite easily through both personal contact and technology. He made me think about how social media is used in Leicester to spread positivity and sometimes, unfortunately, to spread negativity.

Like most conferences, AASA included a “marketplace” where vendors from a wide variety of companies showcased their products and services. If we had an unlimited supply of funds we could engage many of these companies to provide services and products for our schools. Since we don’t have unlimited funds, it is especially important to learn about what’s available and to weight one product against another to make sound fiscal decisions.

Some vendors, including Read to Them, presented sessions. Read to Them’s One District, One Book (ODOB) is a family literacy program where everyone reads the same book at the same time (at all grade levels). This program has been used in various ways by some of the superintendents who presented on the panel. Districts can choose one of the recommended titles and RTT sends a copy for every student and staff. The book gets sent home with a reading schedule. Later, the school celebrates and explores the book in school. The cost is about $10/book, including promotional materials. Some districts have found sponsors for the program. Whether or not we use Read to Them as a source of these novels, this concept might be a great idea for engaging the community and promoting reading.

Members of Harvard’s Strategic Data Project presented “Data-Driven Decision Making: How are you doing?” They also shared a rubric a district can use to assess their strategic use of data. Renee Foose, Superintendent in Maryland, described how her district worked with the group from Harvard to improve their use of data in service of district improvement. The focus of our next Teacher Leader training day will be on the use of data and this rubric will be helpful to us as we ensure that data is used strategically.

Moreno Carrasco, president of Executive Coaching Services in Maryland , provided a session entitled, “Level 5 Time Management for School Leaders.” The session began with a short video, The First 10 Minutes, showing a principal entering the school parking lot and making his way to his office. During those first 10 minutes he is intercepted by parents and staff and takes on a number of responsibilities before starting his day. The ending video shows that same principal utilizing some of the strategies Moreno shared to utilize those same 10 minutes in a much more productive way. The strategies he shared allow principals to increase instructional supervision. As an important priority for me is to help our principals utilize their time in the most productive way, I’ll be sharing these strategies with our principals and utilizing them myself as well.

Jay Goldman, editor of School Administrator, shared tips for getting articles published in their journal as well as writing for the AASA Books program. Session participants also contributed to a discussion on the professional responsibility to share best practice and the satisfaction resulting from having a paper published. I’m going to make this a personal goal of mine over the next year. As a teacher, I had a couple of articles published in The Science Teacher and Science Scope but I haven’t yet written for an administrative journal.

In “Building Blocks for System Coherence: Leveraging Your Leadership Capacity” a team from Arlington Public Schools from Arlington, Virginia shared their work engaging the entire school community in district improvement work. They validated the work we have been taking in Leicester to value our teacher leaders, focus on a limited number of strategic initiatives, utilize data for decision-making, implement a coherent professional development plan, and be a good steward of district resources.

It will probably take me a few weeks to unpack both the papers and the ideas I brought home from AASA. In addition to my learning, I now feel re-energized to continue the good work being done here in Leicester.

Posted by Judy Paolucci | 0 comments

 Blog: Thursday, February 18, 2016

 

Principals, Superintendents, and School Committee Members – What’s their function?

Just prior to departing for a professional conference, I was involved in a conversation about the role of the principal, the role of the superintendent, and the role of the school committee. Each session of the conference enabled me to continue to reflect on these functions. It is important for me to both share my learning from the conference and clarify these functions for the school community so I decided to combine these objectives. I’ve split my report on the AASA conference sessions into two blog entries as the sessions were particularly rich this year. I’ll post the second entry in a couple of weeks.

In the opening session, “Sticks & Stones Exposed: The Truth Behind Words and Relationships,” Dave Weber, a humorist, writer, and national speaker, provided his perspective on how words impact relationships, relationships impact culture, and culture impacts student outcomes. Above all else, each of the three branches of educational governance and administration attends to relationships in support of students. Whether school committee members are nurturing their relationships with other town bodies, principals are building their relationships with their staff, or the superintendent is cultivating relationships with the school committee and the principals, relationships should not be taken for granted. Of course, it is also true that attending to relationships does not mean that conflicts or disagreements can or should be avoided or that compromise is always the best solution. Working through conflict builds stronger relationships and helps us to find a common ground.

In “A Silly Idea: That Standardized Achievement Tests Can Help Us Evaluate School Leaders, Schools and Teachers,” David Berliner presented evidence suggesting that standardized tests are insensitive to what happens in schools and classrooms. This is both reaffirming and disheartening, It is reaffirming because I never thought it was as easy as some seem to suggest to use student achievement results to judge the short term effects of school improvement efforts or to judge the effectiveness of a teacher. It is disheartening because we need measures to use to gauge the effects of our work so that we can make adjustments if necessary and invest further in efforts that have a greater likelihood of success. An important function of principals is to use observations and student assessment results to evaluate and coach teachers. In turn, the superintendent does the same for principals and the school committee does the same for the superintendent. I am pleased that the position Leicester is taking regarding the use of student assessments in the evaluation process for both administrators and teachers focuses on their use to set improvement goals, rather than their use as a direct measure for evaluation.

Several sessions focused on technology initiatives and will help us to make better decisions about technology integration and use. In “A Learner-Centric Leader in a Digital World,” a panel of presenters discussed the role of the superintendent in leading technology initiatives. The session was organized around the Five Imperatives for Technology Leadership identified in CoSN/AASA’s Empowered Superintendent Leadership Initiatives:

  • Strengthen District Leadership and Communications
  • Raise the Bar with Rigorous, Transformative and Innovative Learning and Skills
  • Transform Pedagogy with Compelling Learning Environments
  • Support Professional Development and Communities of Practice
  • Create Balanced Assessments

CoSN and AASA provided several tools that will be particularly useful as we continue to develop our technology initiatives.

Dr. Kecia Ray, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Education, presented a compelling argument for adding coding to the curriculum. While the availability of jobs in the computer science field might not be enough of an incentive for some, Dr. Ray added other positive outcomes, including the improvement of both mathematics and literacy skills. Her discussions about how Nashville schools integrated coding in core subjects compels me to visit their website to investigate further.

In another seminar entitled, “Data and Lessons Learned Behind Effective 1:1 Programs,” Patrick Fletcher, Superintendent of River Dell Schools discussed what makes their 1:1 programs successful. In “Nothing is Impossible: Transforming Teaching & Learning Through Technology,” Wendell Sumter, principal of Great Falls Elementary School in South Carolina, discussed the transformation of his school through technology and through vision articulation.

All four sessions remind us that technology use is in service to higher objectives, including increased student achievement and improved communication. As we move toward greater use of technology in our schools, it will be important for the school committee to adopt appropriate policies regarding technology use and ensure adequate budgeting for technology. The superintendent facilitates the development of and communicates a shared vision for its use, works with the school committee to develop new policies, and ensures that principals and staff have what they need to successfully implement technology initiatives. Principals are closest to the important work teachers do with technology in their classroom and can best ensure that policies are implemented, training is provided, the vision is understood, and resources are utilized.

Perhaps the most timely and relevant session I attended this week was “Shifting to More Equitable and Restorative District-wide Discipline: Opportunities and Challenges.’’ A panel of educators, including Sharon Contreras of Syracuse and Larry Dieringer of Engaging Schools, discussed the shift to an approach to discipline that is restorative and equitable. Their resources for developing better student codes of conduct were shared. The purpose of changing approaches to school discipline is not to soften the reaction to poor behavior but instead is to make the response more effective and learning-oriented. Another session, presented by Blankenstein, entitled, Excellence through Equity: Five Principles of Courageous Leadership to Guide Achievement for Every Student,” echoed the philosophical foundation of these ideas.

Responses to poor behavior have traditionally been focused on punishment and only work for a small fraction of students. If our goal is to have more students exhibiting better behavior, substituting natural consequences for punishments and restoring the student back to the learning community will have to become a priority. Such changes will need to be made carefully and in collaboration with parents, students, the school committee, teachers, and administrators. For those interested in participating in a task force on updating Leicester’s codes of conduct, look for an invitation to be sent out in the next few weeks.

Highlighting the role of the school committee, superintendent, and principals for building relationships, evaluation, technology programming, and discipline codes perhaps doesn’t shed complete clarity on these roles but I hope it contributes toward a better understanding of how we all work together to provide an environment for continuous improvement in all our schools.

 

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 2:25 PM | 1 comment

 Blog: Monday, January 18, 2016

 

Tolerance and Politics

Nearly 49 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech delivered in New York about Vietnam, stated, “The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve.” It is, perhaps, his least hopeful quote but it also, unfortunately hits the mark. Like Benjamin Button, I think we are moving backwards in time.

The first televised presidential debates, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, highlighted clear ideological differences between the candidates and between the parties but were also relatively respectful as compared to what we’ve seen thus far.

I’ve heard it said that if you hold a public position you should keep your politics tight to the vest. I disagree. What’s really great about this country is our ability to hold different views without persecution. Unfortunately, we have become a country where holding different views sometimes yields contempt. Democrats vs. Republicans, Whites vs. Blacks, males vs. females, liberals vs. conservatives… we’re becoming a nation of opponents just when it’s most important to unite.

My political ideology is probably not a surprise to most that know me and is not particularly the point. Instead, I’m hoping we can, as a community, rise above the rest of the nation to remain respectful, open-minded, and tolerant of those who may look differently, act differently, worship differently, or think differently. Children will do as we do rather than do as we say.

On this day commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s show that we can achieve the maturity that he feared would not be achievable and “learn to live together as brothers or [NOT!] perish together as fools.”

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 9:51 AM | 0 comments

 

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