Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

I’ve re-blogged Ross before, but seriously, the dude just slam dunks post after post. Fight the establishment, follow your heart, and keep to your mantra. KIDS FIRST.

Cooper on Curriculum

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation byBill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators.The Rigor Relevance Frameworkserved as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version…

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Pounding My Chest

Bammy TopJay Eitner

So this came in email over the weekend. I was humbled. I was shocked. I was second guessing myself. But then it hit me – I was proud.

This is nothing to do with me; this is to do with education. Educators have long been taught to be humble and express thanks. While I’m always thankful, I think if everyone in every other line of work gets to show off, we should too.

I’m a huge show off. I show off my districts I work in like no other. Why? That’s part of my job. You make your job – you don’t let the job define you. I choose to be a cheerleader. Yes, for real, I choose to be a cheerleader. Why every school official isn’t somewhat baffles me. Every one of my colleagues should be spreading the good news and tell the world why our schools, filled with our future, is awesome.  From news helicopter flyovers, to national trips to The White House, I’m happy o share all of that good stuff with everyone.

If something cool happens to me in the process like the picture above, great. But when that gives opportunities to my staff and students?! Boom! 

In the age of everyone getting trophies, awards, and certificates, it’s silly for educators to be stepping aside. Tell the world how awesome your district is; pound your chest. Or just let the bad stuff about your district keep getting blasted on the public. 

But hey, I’m just a superintendent, what do I know?

Don’t Shoot The Enforcer

Superintendents have all kinds of duties. One of the bigger duties is to enforce all policies that are passed by the Board of Education. Let me go on the record right now; it’s not easy, and it’s surely not fun.

For the most part, incidents create policy. While knee-jerk reactions typically don’t become policy, but folks who persistently present a cause tend to have policy implemented over a period of time. In my current district, there is a new wellness policy.

The policy was a result of wellness committee meetings for over two years. From what I understand, it started over concerns brought forth by parents over what was being brought into schools for celebrations and what was being sold in the cafeteria. Many hours of meetings, policy drafts, and commentary later, a policy and regulation was adopted. It was introduced at my first meeting, and adopted at the second. It covers a whole lot, ranging from what is considered foods of “minimal nutritional value” down to when a class celebration can commence. Not that big of a deal…until… 

 Yep… Halloween.

Class parties are in the horizon, and folks started to read the policy. Folks started to ask questions. Lots of questions. Good questions, silly questions… But one thing was clear. Everyone wanted a list of what’s OK and not OK to bring in.

I did a ton of research online (mainly federal  and state websites) on what is good and what is not. I composed a list of around 70 items and a “do not bring” list. I let the board take first crack, then the entire staff. There was tons of great feedback. I then sent it home and also placed it on the district Facebook page. And that’s when the assault started.

Parents were not pleased. I totally understood; it’s very different from when we were in school. I also understood the parents and board members taking the healthy eating & allergies stance. It’s problematic and needs to be addressed. 

The biggest factor for me: it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s not my policy. It is my job, however to enforce the policy that the board adopts. I could love it, I could loathe it, but in the end, my opinion does not matter. 

So, if you come across a policy that you really hate, don’t blame the Superintendent. The superintendent is merely the enforcer of the policy. Don’t blame the parents, don’t blame the board, don’t blame anyone! Rather, do something about it. Your input can certainly influence policy; that’s the beauty of democracy.

Trick or Treat! No tricks here… Just some fresh fruit. 

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

As I gear up for my 15th year in education, I’ve been having those restless nights. It’s clockwork – every year, about three weeks before school starts, I think about everything and anything. This year is no different; but each year I become more and more adamant for trying to ensure the best education for every student I am responsible for. I don’t care where you come from, your socioeconomic status, or what football team you like, but I do care that I, along with my staff, will do everything and anything to create the best learning environment possible and allow the learner to gain as much knowledge as possible. This includes starting the school year off  with the expectation to all teachers that they should have high expectations and not assume that a learner can’t or won’t do something given their background or whom they are.

I am always pondering about how I can level the playing field for all learners. I’ve been consistent in every community I’ve worked in; I have not fully delved into my new community yet, but it’s clear that the Board (a reflection on the community) wants what is best for their children and prepare them for a successful middle school and high school career.

I’ve been thinking about my recent stint and how leveled the playing field — and most of it was done on the premise of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” When I first started there, I was told over and over by everyone that this was a “different place and pace” from what my career has been exposed to thus far, but it initially didn’t sink in. I’ve worked in the country before – with beautiful horse farms, sprawling estates, and even some dirt roads… Along with million dollar homes and the average  house paying a good 20k in property taxes. The education average was a Masters plus 30, and most worked in NYC or in very affluent communities. 

There was horses, farms, and dirt roads, but the socioeconomic class was complete opposite. The biggest factor – no municipal tax. The easiest way to explain – do you rmemeber the TV show LOST? Do you rmemeber the Dharma Initiative?  If you didn’t watch the show, you occasionally crossed a resident with college experience, and most only knew one way of life – their way. I will never forget sitting with a board member and them saying college was NOT the end game. I was shocked. But after really giving it thought, I understood. The mantra wasn’t oppression and “no outside education or college”; the goal was focus on something you want to do and get the skill set to do it. If that was college, great. If not, no biggie. The board wanted their learners to be prepared for their high school experience, and took Lincoln’s quote to heart — “Whatever you are, be a good one.”.

This logic was new for me., and with the new mindset came a new culture and an entire different type of people. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  Nothing wrong with that — in fact, I enjoyed the different pace and atmosphere. There’s certainly something to be said for having simplistic conversations and solving problems without scads of lawyers or red tape. 

NJ PARCC Results: the word of the day is RELAX!

The following is the letter I shared with my Staff after the initial report came out from the NJDOE on the state-wide PARCC scores.  In sum, everyone needs to RELAX.



As you may have read or heard, the State released PARCC state-level results yesterday afternoon.  While many are not really surprised by what we saw, it’s still worth checking out. A couple of follow-up points:


  • District/school-level results are expected within the next few weeks. These initial reports do not have any redacted information for subgroups that are too small to report. Therefore, we were advised to be careful about sharing the results publicly until the DOE provides us with the final version.
  • The release of individual student reports will follow the school results; however, a timeline was not given. When these reports arrive, we will provide parents with an informational letter to help them understand the new information. As previously indicated, when we receive student results they will not be used for any placement purposes.
  • This  year’s PARCC results are considered baseline data that need to be analyzed to determine what uses might be appropriate. The DOE did provide us with some guidance documents and presentations that we are reviewing administratively and sharing as needed.
  • ASK and PARCC results cannot be compared. For example, ASK used three proficiency bands and PARCC has five. You cannot try and combine PARCC bands into three sets to use in comparison with ASK.
  • Standardized tests have a long history in public education. They are just one measure of our district, schools, and students. We need to keep this in mind as the results are shared.
  • In the report, the Commissioner of Education states: “Now that the statewide results are in, I know our school leaders are taking the steps necessary, such as making adjustments to their curricula, targeting professional learning activities for teachers, and engaging parents and communities to ensure that all New Jersey students receive a world-class education.”  With all due respect to the Commissioner, as the educational leader of our school district I have to say that we cannot begin “adjusting curricula or targeting professional learning activities” based on state-level results. We need some time to analyze from various perspectives our district and school results and then determine what adjustments are needed. Our district looks at multiple measures to make decisions regarding programs for our students and professional development for our staff.
Again, no big surprises here. One assessment will not make or break us.

Yea, I’m happy.

Throughout New Jersey, school districts strive on a daily basis to build positive school climates that promote academic achievement while preventing negative behaviors, such as violence, and harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB). During the month of October, school districts have the opportunity to highlight and build upon these efforts by engaging students in age-appropriate instruction during both the Week of Respect and School Violence Awareness Week. Week of Respect – The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (P.L.2010, c.122) requires that the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year (October 5-9 in 2015) be designated as the Week of Respect in New Jersey. To recognize the importance of character education, school districts, charter schools, and Renaissance school projects are required to observe the week by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing HIB. Approved private schools for students with disabilities are encouraged, but not required, to observe this week. Most do, as this is a great way to show off your students, staff, and schools.

All Waterford Schools shined this week in ways that haven’t been seen in this community.  It’s a wonderful thing… and it’s crucial to school branding and telling our story.

The video above shows our littlest and peppiest learners.  This was just the beginning.

There were assemblies.  There were kindness chains designed to keep everyone full circle when it comes to getting and giving respect.  There were contests, positive post-it notes, and a fly-over from the ABC news helicopter:


You can see all of the photos from this week via our District FaceBook page.

I can’t stop smiling after this week.  This district is proud, energized, and yes, happy.

Stakeholders: They Matter.

Election season is gearing up for most towns in New Jersey. Besides all of the promises, stances, and handshakes, there comes the line that “you matter”. Not gonna lie here – you DO!  Your input counts a lot more than you think.

Where does your input count most? When they hire us, the Superintendents. Essentially, we are a reflection of the Board. The majority of folks on the board choose the Superintendent based on our beliefs, what we’ve done, and what we plan to do.  Since you elect the board members, and that’s a reflection of your input, you are putting a whole lot of trust in whom they pick to lead the district.

When interviews roll around for Superintendent positions, there are scads of questions asked in interviews. Some of the best questions come from community surveys. More and more, boards are are posting feedback surveys on website that address a myriad of questions ranging from what background should the Superintedent have to what problems do you foresee in the future. Decent surveys will throw questions up that have locals identify the positives of the community. Districts should also have questions that reflect the mission statement and vision. Hopefully, the district will avoid the personality trait question. The characteristics question is always a “gotcha”, and often elicits bad vibes based on past experiences. It could bring some good stuff out, but chances are it won’t. 

So before you hang up on that election call, remember… You really do matter.

Why Everyone Needs To Visit the Northfield Community School

The Digital Shop classroom at NCS

There are folks that run their mouth, and there are folks that walk the walk AND talk the talk.  There are schools that say they are doing X, Y, and Z, and then there are schools that ARE doing X,Y, and Z.  Yesterday, I had the chance to visit Northfield Community School, and see IDEA STREET and the work of Kevin Jarrett, Glenn Robbins, and the staff of NCS in action.  I took one of my G&T teachers along to see where I was looking to go in the next two years.

Below is really the best way I can describe my experience:

via @buzzfeed

For months, I have read, tweeted, and spoke to Kevin Jarrett & Glenn Robbins about what they were doing na dhow they were doing it. It was fascinating; partially because I just implemented a STEAM program at my previous school district, but more so because of  how the bar was being raised.  For all of us.  This room… this class… this school… is the REAL DEAL.

The Room is a former computer lab.  Where do I even begin with this? A few standup workstations, that were coated with a paint that allows you to write on the tables with expo markers. One side of the wall was aligned with slots for placing hooks anywhere and everywhere for storage or hanging labcoats.


There was a corner dedicated to 3D printing, with a variety of printers printing projects.  I really enjoyed seeing all of the different types of 3D printers making all kinds of stuff ranging from an octopus to bolts & screws.


Another corner of the room was dedicated to television production, complete with a real news desk (donated from the local Fox News station).  Morning announcements and student reporters will be covering everything from clubs and dances to the weather.


This was just the start.  If all of this was happening in one room.  What is the school like?  Mind blown, part two:

via @buzzfeed
via @buzzfeed

I was in complete awe walking around. The bright, vibrant colors that a school should be (not the infamous “battleship gray” as a former boss use to say). The frist hall had an Ed-Camp board set up, where students get to pick one class.  Yes, you read it correctly, STUDENTS GET TO PICK THE CLASS! Based on interests, you could have chosen anything from ‘tracking Joaquin’ to making Kahoots. The halls had coffee-house like furniture, so students can hang out and catch up on work (I also saw a teacher teaching a mini-lesson there).  The halls had shower boards hanging up as whiteboards for kids to write ideas or share thoughts. Windows?  covered in expo marker. Not graffiti – math problems and quotes. very class I went in, every student I spoke with, every corner I turned, something else was there for me go go “wow”.

This IS the real deal.  This IS where schools are going.  NCS is way ahead of the wave that we are all trying to swim to.

My G&T teacher was blown away as well.  We spent the entire lunch and ride home talking about how to take the next step in Waterford.

Right now, I’m still decompressing from what I saw.  I’m going to start formulating a plan that will take to a point where NCS is.

Oh yea, the most critical piece; I met these gents on Twitter.  Yes, Twitter. My PLN on Twitter is amazing.

In the meantime, go check out NCS, check out the tiwtter feeds of Kevin and Glenn, and read Glenn’s blog.  It’s the real deal.

#NCSPRIDE, all the way.