What A Year!

 2016 has been an amazing year.  Yes, there has been bumps in the road, but what journey in life doesn’t have bumps?  I have received a flurry of emails as of late from staff members and parents about what we were able to accomplish this past year. A handful of items from the past 12 months include:

  • Rebuilding various grade levels with new schedules, teaching assignments, and building times so that when students leave our District, they are truly prepared for their next step.
  • Realigning staff on all levels in the interest of student achievement and District success.
  • Streamlining  our curriculum so that all teachers are teaching the same thing and all students are learning the same thing. 
  • Consolidating a before and after-school child care program that was losing over $75,000 a year into one  location where money is not being lost.
  • Implemented a new student information system that is both user-friendly and is updated for today’s times.
  • Upgraded a decade-old lunch money collection system so parents can pay online and see what their kids are (or are not) eating.
  • Built social media websites so that all stakeholders can see and comment on all of the great things we are doing (i.e. facebook, twitter, instagram, smore, snapchat).
  • Streamlined the communication process so that central office is delivering the message for all schools, not individual schools giving the message and creating confusion.
  • Held an outdoor 6th grade graduation at the request of parents.
  • Established  concise & consistent emergency procedures that everyone follows and now has clear information as to what to do in an emergency.
  • Implemented the “20time” program for students .
  • Realigned the G&T program so that it’s apart of the Tier III RtI program.
  • Created rubrics for candidates, allowing the most qualified to get the job.
  • Invited the community in on certain interviews for administrative positions.
  • Passed a budget that had a .64% increase, the lowest in 27 years.
  • Offered an administrative retreat so administrators had the time to collect thoughts, create goals, and be aligned for the upcoming school year.
  • Built in academic times for both RtI (Response to Intervention) and nationally recognized programs, including ST Math, MyON Reading, and the Cassini Space Project & Essay Contest.
  • Authorized a science project to be sent to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket.
  • Created additional coaching positions to include math, Title I, and assistance for our paraprofessionals.
  • Eliminated copious amounts of paperwork on all levels at all points of the year (over 42 documents were either eliminated or consolidated).
  • Established a 1:1 chromebook initiative for grades 2-6 and a tablet/iPad  program for grades K-2. 
  • Digitized the curriculum, forms, documents, and just about anything that could be.
  • Per student voice, purchased and added FOUR GaGa pits so students can maximize their recess time.
  • Sold an unoccupied building in the district that was costing the district over $12000.00 in yearly electric and alarm system bills.
  • Upgraded facilities equipment and sold damaged equipment.
  • Updated policies that are reflective of today’s times and pedagogies.
  • Revised the mission statement, philosophy, and vision of the district to reflect whom we as a community are today.
  • Upgraded HVAC systems, sinks, & closets, removed carpeting in all schools, and abated ALL asbestos throughout the District.
  • Installed a new gym floor and removed a carpeted gym floor (seriously, there was a carpeted gym floor).
  • Eliminated excessive standardized testing where it was not required.
  • Designed a new student assessment benchmarking system where all students are being  tested on the same areas with shorter assessments.
  • Eliminated redundancy for students by deleting curriculum overlaps and allowing prior scores to be accepted and not be retested. 
  • Created a real teacher’s room in a building where the prior one was less than 30 square feet.
  • Allowed our Home & School  Association to conduct multiple events and fundraisers that directly had positive impact on our students.
  • Established a community presence at town-wide events, including township committee meetings, library board meetings, and community fairs.
  • Obtained national recognition from NBC news, NewsELA, and CNN Money that showed superb progress in our district via news articles and national commercials.
  • Offered meaningful, effective Professional Development to teachers and administrators that needed it and wanted it. Who would have thought!
  • Represented the District nationally, including the White House, showing people what could be done and how it gets done.
  • Publicized the LifeLine Program, allowing those eligible for the $10.00 / month cable & internet access to receive a $9.75 grant, making your monthly charge a quarter.
  • Partnered with JerseyON to get students a wifi hotspot for their homes.  $78.00 got a hotspot with unlimited data that works for 5 years.
  • Inducted into the third cohort of InnovateNJ
  • Raised district-wide test scores in the areas on math and & ELA by immediate changes in instructional practices.

We have done more in this District in the past

12 months than the past 12 years.

This was no single-person effort; this was the result of hundreds, if not thousands of hours of work from staff members ranging from cafeteria workers to myself. We were told many of the things could not and would not happen.  We saw people waiting for things to fail, only to fly high in success. We came, we saw, we conquered. AND… our students, the reasons why we are all here in education, are reaping the benefits.

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That doesn’t mean everything above was done with all smiles or in a snap. There were many meetings, pushback,  and even some tears.  Change is hard, and while people like to scream the word change, most don’t like TO change. Since I am the Chief School Administrator, I’m the one who catches the most grief when something happens that people don’t like.  Couple that with a divided board (I joined the District on a 5 yes, 4 no vote), and it complicates things even more.

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Besides the split board, there was a pact of parents and teachers that saw me as enemy number 1 as well. Don’t be fooled – every Superintendent has a group, but mine have been very, very vocal. Meetings, tweets, posters, the soccer field; you name it, the rumor has been spread. While some rumors ranged from absurd to something from Mean Girls, I commend them for their persistence and presence, as you helped me in every single action taken this year. I couldn’t be happier. Let me reiterate and be clear – everyone collaborating for the above changes has been fantastic; those that loathed the efforts of change were the real catalyst in initiatives getting passed.  And the saddest part is that they didn’t even recognize that their negativity was being used in every step of the process. So, did I play them? Was this some Frank Underwood action?  No; I turned sour lemons into sweet lemonade. Remember, I am the Superintendent – I am the Chief Education Officer – every move I make and every smile I fake was done with calculation, knowing that it would cause a chain reaction to get what we wanted. And we did. As you can see, all changes really were a community-wide effort, lovers and loathers included. There’s nothing wrong with taking those that don’t like you or your efforts and harness their energy into something that works for your cause. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.

 

I have been quoted often for saying that “I am loved or loathed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way”.  You’re foolish if you think that everyone will love you, especially in my job. People always ask me if I worry about this when it comes to my career. Absolutely not.  When you’re great at what you do, you don’t need to worry about your job. The jobs come to you.

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Why do I love my haters so much?  Because they have helped me to calculate and execute almost every move I have made in my career. I learned quite a bit when I was a NJEA  building rep. I spent hours working with other NJEA members throughout the state on this stuff and how to get things done.  I don’t need to invest energy in publicity, don’t have to explain the other sides of much since they do it for me, and as the saying goes, “Any news is good news”. My haters will never realize that; they’ve helped me establish connections, gain statewide and national media attention, and most importantly, helped my family both financially and career wise.  So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. My family, my career, and my wallet thank you as well.

If you thought 2016 was wild, just wait until 2017.  Major items on the horizon, including collaborations with the Bermuda Department of Education, the Hawaii Department of Education, and some action in DC.

 

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image credit: AZ Quotes

9000 Math Geeks

Would you ever think that over 9,000 people would attend a math fair on a Saturday? It happened! Last month, thousands of smiles descended upon the Orange County Fairgrounds for the third annual MIND Research Institute’s Math Fair.

Before I continue, I need to go on the record and state that I despised math in school. I loved algebra so much that I took it again the following year! It always left a bad taste in my mouth for two reasons. 1. I was adamant that I was never going to use any math, ever, and 2. I didn’t know what I was doing!

There were 28 exhibits located throughout the 2016 Math Fair, held this year at California’s Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

The first exhibit I stopped at consisted of about six or so sets of side-by-side train tracks upon which the Westford and Eastford “trains” virtually traveled. Participants worked out their calculations on screens, then entered the exhibit, placing tiny brain-shaped rubber markers alongside the point on the tracks where they thought the virtual trains would intersect.

Since this exhibit was designated grades three and up, Slaby, genial and encouraging, was convinced I could come up with the solution—in my head. Instead, my brain froze, and, only after he had stage-whispered the answer to me, did I set down my marker.

Matthew Peterson, CEO and co-founder of fair organizer Mind Research Institute, is intent upon transforming the perception of math from intimidating to something that’s exciting and approachable, and the Math Fair—always free and in its third year—is integral to this effort, giving attendees plenty of fun, hands-on mathematical experiences. How do I know this? Because I have been using his program, ST Math, for the past  four years. It has changed all of my thoughts and feelings about the relationship of school and math.

Other exhibits included golf-putting games like Bank Shot and Roll All Over, an exhibit called Blockopolis where geometric structures were created with foam blocks, and Lazer Box where lasers were sent traveling through arrangements of mirrors.

The idea for the event came out of the realization that what is often referred to as an “achievement gap” is actually an “experience gap” that forms from a disadvantage many students have in the amount of mathematical experiences they’re exposed to outside of school. The Math Fair attempts to close that experience gap by providing opportunities for families so that they can  build a love of math together.

The first fair, held in 2014 in Irvine, California, had roughly 4,200 registered attendees. The following year it moved to Chicago with 24 exhibits, over 300 volunteers and 5,500 registered attendees. This year’s event had 28 exhibits and 480 volunteers, and registered attendees surged to over 9,000.

I had to fight my way through the crush of people to try some of the challenges. I was pretty excited, not just because it was my first Math Fair, but because I was eager to see how thrilled the kids were to be there and how they interacted with the games. The coolest part of the fair? There is no sense of failure with any math activity.

There was also a Math Mystery Theater to catch the interactive show where primary-aged children—using computers and guided by two actors dressed as lab workers—tried to determine how many gumballs were in a jar. The kids’ calculations become more challenging when the actor playing the assistant sneaked gumballs into her mouth and then handed her “boss” a big wad of chewed-up gum. The kids had to guess how many gumballs were consumed, and their new calculations appeared on screens surrounding the stage. Again, a sea of smiles and laughter at a math fair… Think about that!

I hope this wasn’t my last fair. Such an infectious event needs to be shared all over. Math is cool after all!

5 Books to Give for the 2016 Holiday

Looking to get the educator in your family something both fun and scholarly to read? Look no further! Yes, educators like other books besides educational reads (and things besides books… i.e. alcohol), but the five books below will be welcome in any educational classroom or office.

1) Collaborative Leadership – Peter DeWitt

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Pete DeWitt is awesome–not because he’s a friend, but because his writing hits home, and he says what he really means. Many school leaders today rely on transformational and instructional leadership in their classrooms /  buildings / district. Pete steers away from that and speaks about how you can apply a holistic leadership approach, so that all stakeholders can buy in–AKA collaborative leadership. Pete identifies six factors framed through John Hattie’s research while showing the importance of meeting stakeholders where they are, motivating them to strive for improvement, and then even modeling how to do it. He also writes about how to transform your leadership practice, identify where you can make change, build and empower your team, and incorporate all stakeholders into the conversation.

This book is available by clicking here.

2) The 20time Project: How educators can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation Kevin Brookhauser

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I first heard of this book at the NJASA Techspo workshop last year. They brought in Kevin Brookhouser, a teacher from California who spoke about the concept from start to finish. He then did a workshop with Green Hills Superintendent John Nittolo (our school took a field trip to see him in action) on how his entire building (grades K – 8) is incorporating the idea into classes. The concept?  To help inspire innovation and creativity, Google offers employees 20% of their time to work on a project of their own choosing. Teachers who offer the same to their students can meet learning goals while creating powerful experiences that lead to increased motivation, creativity, and divergent critical thinking. This book illustrates how to develop a 20time program in middle and high schools across curricula, how to effectively communicate the rationale of the program to administrators, parents, and students, and how to execute the program, so that students are able to manage their time effectively for a successful final project.

You can purchase the book by clicking here.

3) Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students, and Parents Love – Tony Sinanis & Joe SanFellippo

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Tony and Joe are also friends of mine, but that’s not why I am plugging their book. Tony and Joe are an academic powerhouse who have taken the country by storm. From hosting the BAMMY Awards to partaking in scads of twitter chats during the week, these men have some of the best insights into education today. When school leaders join teachers, students, and parents in a collaborative effort to improve teaching and learning,  achievement soars and schools turn into vibrant communities, filled with enthusiastic members. In Hacking Leadership, Tony and Joe demonstrate how to increase learning by leaving the office and engaging directly with all teachers and learners. They identify 10 problems with school leadership and provide dynamic solutions. Joe and Tony also cover the concept of “Lead Learner,” as well as addressing staff needs and school culture, breaking down barriers between home and school, eliminating initiative overload, and bringing passion into your school.

This book is available by clicking here.

4) 50 Things To Go Further With Google Classroom – Alice Keeler & Libbi Miller

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Alice Keeler is a rock star–again not because we are friends, but because she is the game changer for Google classroom, Google docs, and the GAFE movement.  Alice brings a student-centered approach to the technology that just about every student is using today. Current technology empowers educators to move away from the traditional classroom where teachers lead and students work independently–each doing the same thing. Alice & Libbi offer inspiration and resources to help you create a digitally rich, engaging, student-centered environment. They show you how to tap into the power of individualized learning that is possible with Google Classroom.

This book is available by clicking here.

5) Instant Relevance – Denis Sheeran

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Coming from Dave Burgess Publishing (if you haven’t heard of the NYT Best Seller Teach Like A Pirate, you have some reading to do) is the latest in student engagement and leadership motivation.  Denis Sheeran (from the great state of NJ) offers the concept and perspective that students don’t need teachers for information. Virtual course ware, online tutors, and comprehensive textbooks make individualized, self-paced learning easier than ever before. Students have free access to information 24/7, so what can teachers offer students that massive, open, online courses (MOOCS) and online tutorials can’t? Relevance!

Students need teachers to help them make sense of information. Every day students in schools around the world ask the question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?” In Instant Relevance, author and keynote speaker Denis Sheeran equips you with the ability to create engaging lessons from experiences and events that matter to your students, not just in preparation for real-world application. Your students will begin to see meaningful connections between the real world and what they learn in the classroom, because that’s when learning sticks. You will learn why sharing personal experiences can make lasting content connections for students, how asking questions can lead to relevant learning experiences, where detours from routine can take your class, and how to find unique learning opportunities in everyday circumstances.

This book is available by clicking here.

On a personal note, I am currently penning two books myself based on my experiences as a superintendent.  If you thought your classroom stories couldn’t be made up, you’ll be quite entertained by these two books. I’m looking to have both on the shelves by the summer of 2017.

I hope everyone has a joyous holiday season, and, to those in the field of education, enjoy your winter break.  You’ve earned it!

 

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 be 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.