On The Mend

It’s been an interesting November & December. While I have been truly blessed with my family, my career, and my traveling, I took a rare step. I did something for myself early in November. I had gastric bypass surgery.

This surgery has been a long time in the making. For most of my life, I’ve been the fat guy.  While I just tolerated it in middle and high school, I took it all off in college. I went from 340 lbs to 208 lbs. How? I was in the gym, every day, for at least 4 hours. In about a year, I took it all off, I was in shape, and even had a social life. It was awesome.

Post college and into the real world, I certainly didn’t have time for four-hour workouts, let alone eating properly and caring about my looks. Slowly but surely, it all came back. I tried every yo-yo diet and fad exercise in between with no results. The past five years have been the worst. I wouldn’t just eat; I would graze, all day. Fast food stops when I was bored or just because. Really bad. I eventually got to 350 lbs again, and now older, other medical conditions came with it. Acid reflux. Diabetes. Fatty liver. All of that bad stuff.

I decided on the traditional ‘roux en y’ procedure versus the sleeve and other methods. My stomach is now the size of a duck egg. While that may sound heinous to some, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I basically can eat about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of food. If I go over that, I’ll get ill. While the recovery has been a bit rocky at times, I am finally able to eat, get out of bed without being in pain, lift, take steps and all of that.

As always, “Jay, what does this have to do with education?”

I feel that the past six weeks have been a time of patience and persistence. I was under the impression that I would up and running within 48 hours and had to constantly be reminded that this was a major surgery and it will take time to heal. It’s a whole new way of eating as well. I went from eating a 20 piece chicken McNuggets in one session to maybe finishing one.

Change is hard. Often, change is good. Eating in a healthy manner, exercising, and practicing a healthy lifestyle is going to do wonders for me. I couldn’t do it alone before, and I was allowed to get a tool (this surgery) to help me.

Teachers and administrators often go through change, and the change is hard. However, when the Superintendent is following the mission and the vision that was created to circulate around students and growth, and are provided the tools and time to adjust to the mindset, change will be good.

For those on the change roller coaster, hang in there. It will settle when all the pieces come together. Focus on what’s best for your students.  As long as you keep doing that, you’ll be AOK.

 

 

You Stupid Idiot!

With the US election 2016 in the books, we can all agree that it was an election like no other. We have seen, heard, and were dragged along on quite an experience. I live in a TV market where there was a highly contested race, so I feel I was subjected a little more. I never thought I would admit this, but I am happy to see all of the holiday commercials instead of the campaign commericals. 

This election year, I was honored to work with NEWSELA and NBC news; both national organizations asked to come in my district to not only shoot commercials, but interview students and teachers about this election cycle and the  challenges that it brought.

One of the continual issues that arise with students and staff was the use of language. You’ve heard the sound bytes; how does a teacher teach about that? How does  a student process that? Based on the responses from both parties — very carefully. 

What was nice to hear from all of the staff interviewed is that they didn’t have to review the blatantly inappropriate; everyone stuck to the issues. Students were presented  (and voted on) the issues. 

You can watch the NBC news segment by clicking here.

You can watch the NEWSELA segment by clicking here.

All educators should be commended for remaining impartial and presenting things in a simple, calm, noncombative way. Teachers  didn’t have to use vulgarity, call people stupid idiots, or succumb to election parlor tricks. 

Civility was disregarded in this past election, but was never lost in our classrooms. Good teaching will ensure it never will.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving  is right around the corner; with the holiday season in full throttle after that, we can hopefully put all of the nastiness into memory. 

… And onward we go!

Attendance Not Required

In late October, the annual New Jersey School Boards Convention is held in Atlantic City, NJ. A collection of school board members, vendors, lawmakers, board attorneys, and yes, Superintendents.  It’s typically a whirlwind of activity, but some of the best learning are the side conversations with my colleagues. There are 591 Superintendents, and often we are on our own island when it comes to work.  The face to face time is celebrated.

At one gathering, about two dozen of us starting talking and we weaved into the topic of attendance.  Not student attendance, not staff attendance, not administrator attendance; attendance of superintendents in their districts.

One of my colleagues had a board member inquire about her attendance over the past year. She is very active on social media with educational best practices and often shares with her followers what she’s doing and where she’s going.  Most of her activities are done on her time; when other events or opportunities (that benefit her district) arise, she’ll either put in a request for school time or just take personal or vacation days.  However, despite her vigorous work ethic, her productivity was questioned due to the fact that these endeavours took her out of the office.

I was rather intrigued by this, as over the past 5 months, I have been in the same spot. Some folks think that the Superintendent’s job is working out of his / her office, Monday-Friday, 9-5. Those are the same folks who think we are still in the 70’s & 80’s; the same folks that want to keep everything just the way it is.

Anyway, back to attendance. I have one of the most time-consuming jobs today, and it’s because of our environment. I can’t even think of a day where I was at my desk all day, let alone in the same place.

I work often from 6AM – 10PM.

I have BOE meetings  (3-4 hours, often more) and workshop meetings  (1-3 hours) – each once a month.

I attend Library Board meetings one a month (evening hours)

I attend monthly OEM (Office of Emergency Management) meetings (that range from 1-2 hours) once a month.

I attend monthly county and state roundtable meetings once a month, often taking half if not all day.

I attend NJASA meetings once every other month, that often have something I can bring back to my district.

Depending on the year, I have Open Houses, Winter Concerts, and PTA fundraisers.

I have BOE Committee meetings (that should be an hour or two that turn into 3 or 4).

As a Superintendent, I work tirelessly for the district.  Some people simply don’t understand that it’s beneficial for the district to do work outside of the office, such as conferences. It exposes the district to a myriad of opportunities and incentives; had I not gone to certain conferences, I would have never learned about productive programs for students, grants & partnerships for families. Not attending events often leads you to being stuck in the same rut. One of my Superintendent friends put it best; If you don’t want me being a part of the future of education or being at the table masking the decisions, just let me know and I’ll punch my time card. Do you know what happens then?  You end up trying to play catch up.  I don’t know about you, I like riding the wave, not swimming behind it trying to catch it.

Do I attend conferences, workshops, meetings, and events? Yes. I am proactive, not reactive. Do I enjoy all of them? No. I have a family, too. Do they help me be a better leader and offer takeaways that I can channel in my district? Most of the time, yes. Will there always be some who won’t ever understand this? Ofcourse – their blinders are sodded on. I can’t change them, so I will spend my energy elsewhere, getting something positive and productive done.

And let’s be real for a second.  It’s 2016.  I have two cell phones. If there is a problem, I’m a click or call away. I encourage people to consider that when they dwell on office time.

So, in sum, what was this post about?  People need to stop worrying about Superintendents and attendance. We are on our jobs 24-7-365, and we don’t need to be sitting at our desk or be in our schools all day to do it.

 

Old and Useless

 

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A few weeks ago, I met up with the AASA Digitial Consortium for the fall meeting. For those that aren’t familiar with the Consortium,the purpose of the consortium is to provide school district leaders the opportunity to work together as critical friends to learn and take action together, to gain insight into emerging and successful models of best practices using digital media in support of engaging end effective learning experiences.

While we were out getting a tour of the schools in the district, some fascinating experiences were to be had. While touring the schools, I couldn’t help to how some schools were older buildings and traditional schools, and others were more of a ‘build as you go’ set up. It turns out that they build large modular units based on enrollment and have an average lifespan of about 20 years. At another school, the design looked more like a campground with cabins in rows. In case, they were camp bunks; actually, they were Navy barracks. The base down the road donated the buildings to the school district. How cool is that?

During the tours, I ended up in a 6th grade STEM room.  They were in the midst of an activity where they had to design the perfect ‘bat-o-rang’ where batman had to slide down from the top of the building to the bottom, but can only do such with the items they had in the mystery bag. I sat down with one group who seemed like they were in the doldrums. They were irked; one student looked at me and said, “what can I possibly do with this thing? It’s all old and useless!” Old and useless?!?!?

That thing was a cassette tape recorder. There were also pieces of yarn, paper clips, pipe cleaners, and a screwdriver. Before I proceeded to go with my plan, I verified everything before breaking stuff.

I sat with the group, pulled out the cassette recorder, and asked if they knew what it was. All replied no. I sighed and proceeded to explained how it played audio. I also simultaneously broke out in a music lesson, sharing both some of my favorite cassettes singles that I bought in my awkward music years. After much humiliation, we focused back to the topic at hand.

We took apart the cassette player for parts to make the bat-a-rang work. We used batteries for power, the rollers in the player as a yoke, and used the plastic cover as a building top for the bat-a-rang to connect to. The students in the group were quick to catch onto the theme of the lesson; use everything that you have to make it work! We couldn’t get to stay together for the whole lesson, but he teacher emailed me later saying they went from dead last to 3rd place. Pretty cool for something that was old and useless.

  Like previous consortiums, the group met up and continued to exercise moonshot thinking and continue to collaborate with Google on best practices being us across the country.

The next morning, we finished our meeting by sharing a variety of ignite learning lessons & sessions that we’ve been learning as we gathered this weekend. It was fantastic!

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addressing the consortium in Napa Valley, CA.

Overall, a fantastic weekend of learning. This job is not an 8-4, Monday to Friday job, and work is done at all hours of the day. Making then time to get to work with your tribe is essential for your success today.  Our job is to get the best for our students and staff; this consortium has truly helped me do just that.

 

Just Keep Swimming

So, for those of you that have kids or grandkids, book makers came up with the brilliant idea of adding sounds to board books. I have come to the conclusion that these books are fun to give but are awful to receive; worse than fruitcake.

My daughter’s love their Finding Dory book, and love tapping all of the sounds even more. The sound I hear over and over and over again: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming“. I think it’s easy to say that I’ve heard this phrase at least 500 times in the past week. Ironically, it applies very well this week.

It’s been one hell of a week on my end. Besides the typical tomfoolery of my job and putting my dog down last weekend, I now have to deal with a mold and dry rot issue in my house! I noticed it over the summer that there was leakage; that turned into mold, which turned into dry rot, and a portion of my roof needs to be replaced, along with walls, and my floor. My house has been taken over by plastic sheets. If you have ever seen the TV show Dexter, each room looks like a scene from when Dexter was ready to get down to work! The joys of homeownership. 

We all have moments on our lives where we are tested. Sometimes, it feels like everything is hitting you at once. What I am going through at home is almost what I go through at work on a daily basis. Issues arise everywhere and anytime. Some issues are small; some issues are huge. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but you need to deal with it. In many ways, you just keep swimming.

On days you have you  have a little, or on days you have a whole lot, just keep swimming. Keep on working out what needs to be worked out, but most importantly, keep abreast of your situation and pace yourself. No person will ever get it all done in one day; don’t try to be the first. Keep your head up, prioritize your list of to-do items, and you’ll be fine.

Just keep swimming; it always works out for the best in the end.

Bye for now!

Over the weekend, I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had to take the step and euthanize my dog, Lola.

Lola was a rescue from Puerto Rico, being 1 of 13. When we were researching adoption options, we saw this and traveled about 2 hours to pick her up. She came right up to us, nestled into our arms, and fell asleep.

From there, she never left our side. Through the good times and bad, Lola was next to me, no matter what. She woke up with me every morning, she slept right next to me in my bed. Nothing could be compared to her glowing eyes, her hatred for the UPS truck & school bus, and her unconditional love. I can’t recall crying as hard as I did when I brought her in the vet’s office and laid next to her during the entire process. She never left my side, and I promised to never leave hers. 


Always on my mind, I am constantly trying to correlate my experiences outside of the education world to what we as educators do everyday. The first thing that comes to mind is the need for empathy for not only our students, but for our staff as well. I’ve heard one of my former bosses use the phrase “we dont know what happens outside of school — maybe they didn’t eat breakfast, maybe Mom & Dad had a fight, maybe their hamster died.” After this weekend, that phrase has a whole new meaning for me. I couldn’t think straight in the past 48 hours. Coming home and not having Lola meet me at the door was heartbreaking. If I had to go into work right after putting my dog down, how could I possibly get anything productive done except eat through boxes of tissues? The same goes for every student and staff member. We need to understand those around us to enhance learning.

The next thing that comes to mind is reflection. As sad is at it is when I’m looking at an empty dog food & water bowl, I can’t help but to think of all of the wonderful moments and happiness she gave me. Like all grief, we need to reflect and transcend back into our daily lives. The next time a student fails a test or a teacher bombs a lesson (we’ve all been there) – dig deeper. What happened? Was it an external force that occurred? Was something not quite right? How can we as teachers and administrators help?

Finally,  I’m thinking about the big picture. How can we make Lola’s life a teachable moment? Sure, we can go into euthanasia, families, and grief, but what else? I feel that this whole experience belongs in the two books I am penning now, but showing more of how to turn lemons into the best glass of lemonade one can drink.

So until we meet again, Lola-bears, bye for now! Thanks for being the best dog in the world. You will be missed in so many ways, and will always have a piece of my heart. I hope there’s plenty of socks, snacks, and buddies to keep you happy. We will be together again, but until then, mwah!

Do you believe in magic?

When people talk about childhood idols & heroes, I always say David Copperfield.  No, not the character from Dickens.  The other character:

 

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image credit: vegas.com

 

If you don’t know of the man above, David Copperfield is an international illusionist who has performed all over the world.  He did a series of specials in the 80’s and 90’s on television and currently performs daily in Las Vegas.

David Copperfield wasn’t just simple magic. There was spectacle; there were music and lights; there was a story; there was the attractive girl; there was the impossible becoming possible in a few minutes.  Illusions were almost performed like MTV music videos.  I was obsessed.

My love for illusions and magic was instantaneous. There was a magic shop in town that I was stopping in every day after school to either learn a trick or save up lunch money (sorry Mom) and buy a new trick each week.  At one point, I had a duffle bag full of all sorts of tricks.

AsI got older, I tried to break out into the entertainment scene.  I had  a clown costume and a mime outfit.  I tried rocking out some tricks and entertainment at street fairs and local township events.  I thought I had something really special in 6th-grade until I bombed two magic tricks on stage. I didn’t really generate much business in 7th and 8th grade, but I did manage to start a clown ministry program at my church. It was cool, but high school came along, and my bag of tricks retired to the attic.

Fast forward about 14 years to my first administrative position as an Assistant Principal in a middle school.  Truly a job where you will never know what will happen, I came across a special 6th-grade student named Max. Max had school phobia to the worst degree.  On many days in the beginning of the year, Max refused to leave the car. On the days he did, he was so reluctant to come in, he would be crying and sometimes even screaming. I was determined to find a way to get Max into school in a safe and quiet manner.

And then it happened. Like magic.

I went home that day and searched all over for my bag of magic tricks. I found it. Like riding a bike, the magic tricks came back after a few tries. I practiced on my wife and my dog.  I was determined to get the patter (a magic term for story) down and if there were any movements as well.  The next day that Max was refusing to get out of the car, I had my magic bag. While some Child Study Team members looked at me oddly for performing the vanishing coloring book trick to a 6th-grader who was kicking the door so I couldn;t open it, he was hooked.  Eventually, he asked how I did it.  That’s when I broke the magician’s code. I told Max I would show him how the trick works IF he came in. Just like that…magic.

Once a week, I would teach Max a new trick that he could try on his classmates and family members at home, but only if he could come in without fuss and go right to class. WE did this for about 2 months, and then he didn’t want the magic anymore; he just wanted to come into class.

I got to use the bag of tricks with a few more students in LAC, and even where I am now. The same deal is reached; if you {come to school} or {behave} or {get all of your homework done}, you can learn a new trick. Believe in the power of magic; it works wonders in lives of all ages.