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.
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.
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.
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.