The White Elephant

image credit: https://goo.gl/eAPDq5

It’s that time of year again, when we all go back to school. Some districts have started; some are about to.  Here in NJ, we typically start after Labor Day.

For the past five years, I have been privileged to kick things off by gathering everyone together and sharing new goals, fun videos, exciting images and apps, and discussing issues that we conquered the previous year. I have recorded each of them; you can watch them by clicking here.

Last year, I inserted a slide of a white elephant.  The prior year had some challenges, something that comes with change. There were rumors running amok, and I had people asking me questions about some issues up to the moment before we started. It wasn’t one white elephant; it was a parade. I wanted to address the parade with everyone in the room, head on. I don’t avoid controversy, and I certainly don’t hide behind any white elephants. It was and will always be my opinion that we address issues openly, so that we can all move forward.

That being said, I addressed them, and I placed a strong emphasis on what had happened the past year, was just that, the past. It was a new year, and what had happened, had happened. No grudges, no drama, no one cares, and onward we go. People get passionate when change takes place, especially when they don’t want it. They will also do anything, say anything, and organize in a way that will prevent the change. That’s okay, too. In fact, it’s hopefully encouraged where you are. We are born with these inalienable rights that should be practiced because we can. It’s the beautiful part of our democracy. Can you tell that I was a civics teacher?

It should be noted that I think protesting and disagreeing are far different from going on a gotcha campaign, a “fishing expedition,”or what I call “loading the shotgun.” (If one loads a shotgun with buckshot and fires, it sprays. Some of it will stick to a target; some won’t). The latter does nobody good. It’s a waste of time, money, and energy that should be focused on you and your students.

This is a new school year. What happened in the past is the past.  Don’t be the white elephant in your room or school this year. Start fresh, start positive, and start with a smile. Holding a grudge, celebrating a coup, or even relishing in bitterness and spite will do no student, colleague, or, most importantly, you any good.

If you’re starting a new school year, have a great one.  If you just retired, congratulations and enjoy your next chapter; you earned it. If you’re a student, parent, or board member, make it a great year. You deserve it!

Onward!

 

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Take It All!

This past Saturday, I had a garage sale. And, like every garage sale you’ve seen, I had junk. Lots of it. Add to the mix that I have twins, so two of every toy, clothes, and every baby gadget known to man. After weeks of gathering it all together, I placed it all in the driveway and went in with the mentality of “take it all”. As long as you take it and give me my two garages & shed back, I’ll make any deal that you want. After placing all of the stuff out, I could not believe all of the stuff I acquired over the past couple of years; most of it I did not even remember I even had.

I didn’t price anything. I didn’t set high expectations of making tons of cash either. I had one goal and one goal only: expunge. Whatever wasn’t was going to get donated; the cash I made goes right to our feeding kid fund (I should really just buy a cow at this point; I buy 4 gallons of milk a week!).

After 4 hours, and subpar weather, I was actually impressed with how much I got rid of. What was “junk” to me was treasure to others. Some purchases were for those in need; others were those looking to flip some furniture; some were collectors, and some were for sheer fun. Every person had a different background. All had one common goal: to acquire new items. 

My favorite person of the day was a gentleman who was just poking around and he came across one of my old work briefcases. The bag retailed for about $400.00; I asked 5 bucks for it. He was ecstatic. He said he was looking for something just like this to put his books in for his night class. He also wanted some new ties for some upcoming interviews; he found a boatload of them as well. His infectious smile combined with what his intentions were enough for me.

So, how does this fit into education?

It’s the time of year where we are about to end the school year. Over the year (or years), we have collected stuff; either things we have used or things we think we will use. It’s time to purge. Don’t remember that you had it? Get rid of it. Switching grades? Get rid of it. Don’t know what it is because you “inherited” items from a retired teacher? Toss it. 

Keeping some of this stuff is cumbersome and could even be dangerous. I had a purge in one of my districts a few years back; they tossed 3 TONS of stuff in 4 days; everything from encyclopedias from the 70s to textbooks that were beyond outdated. I remember another time when a science teacher retired and we had to call a hazmat company in to get rid of the jars of formaldehyde and his secret stash of chemicals! 

Are you retiring? Have a garage sale of your own; offer stuff to your colleagues. What ever isn’t taken, throw it out. No, not textbooks or school issued equipment; all of the stuff you collected. Don’t just leave it for the next person to toss. We as educators are all hoarders by trade; let the next person start fresh and acquire their own.

And please, whatever you do, don’t just take free stuff just to take it. If you have 100 rolls of masking tape, you don’t need 101. 

I hope everyone has a great end of their school year. You worked hard; now go relax! And relaxing does not mean hitting up garage sales to buy more stuff for your classroom! 

The Do-Over

Sitting on a plane is typically not my favorite thing to do. However, it’s been a great time for me to catch up on reading. I have no excuses not to; no screaming kids (that are mine), no texts, and I even try to refrain from Netflix. 

I read a book review of Do Over by Jon Acuff a few weeks back and couldn’t help but to laugh.  The review spoke about how people dread Mondays, their current job, and how people feel stuck in their Groundhog-Day-like jobs (if you don’t get the reference, you need to watch this). Being that I’m always talking or tweeting about how people should leave their job if they are not happy, I was intrigued.

The book eventually delved into a myriad of issues that deal with relationships, skills, character, and hustle. These four qualities help you shape your entire career and how you will proceed.

Some great quotes and takeaways from the book include:

Relationships get you your first job; your skills get you your second. There’s so much truth to that.  Think of your first career or non-career job.  What did you know? Nothing until you stepped into that job. You got that job because you sold yourself as being the best person for that job.  You really learned how to do it once you started it.  And yes, this includes EVERY job in the education field.

When it comes to career relationships, invest in those that you want to keep. Sure, you think everyone one you work with is wonderful at the lunch table (kidding). Yes, you have a circle of friends you keep around but are they REALLY your friends?  If they are, take the time to really know them. They will be with you on your entire journey, whether it be in the same place or not.

Foes are everywhere but limit your defintion. Chances are, people are not out to kill you. Yes, some will try to make your life miserable, are jealous of you, and even will lie about you so they can succeed.  You can’t obsess over them, and you can’t compare the ones that are online to the ones in real life.  As the author states, “if the internet foes were in person, you’d ignore them.”

Miserable foes love company, and also recruits it. Don’t get sucked into foolishness; come in, do your job, do a good one, and proceed with your life.

Don’t burn every bridge you can. Acuff admits that his hands are soaked in gasoline and has done his fair amount of bridge burning.  In fact, we all have burned a bridge or two. But just because you can, do you have to? The workplace is getting smaller and smaller thanks to the internet; chances are you’ll see someone from a burning incident down the line.

When you ignore someone face to face with your phone or computer, you’ve put that person on pause and have made them feel like they don’t matter. I’m guilty of this and have been told more than once occasion to focus.  I blame ADD, but it’s really me just trying to get everything done. Not cool.  Your relationships are the most important things in life, not technology.

Overall, this was a great read that all employees should check out.  This book applies to all walks of life, not just those in education. Your job is what you make of it.  Speaking of, it’s time for a glass of lemonade, not sour lemons.

Which guy?

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image credit: newgrounds.com
So… here we are again…another summer that flies by, another school year ready to kick off, and another few weeks of thoughts swirling in my head about what exactly to say to the hundreds of staff members who wait for my every last breathYou know the last sentence was sarcasm, right?  I used to despise listening to administrators giving speeches to begin the school year.  As a teacher, I already had so much to do, a classroom to set up, curriculum and IEP’s to look over, etc. The last thing I wanted to do was be herded in like cattle to sit and listen to some know-it-all administrator tell me how I’m going to do my job and how wonderful I am, even though he had never met me.

 

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image credit: shamelessmag.com

And now I am “that guy.”   I don’t like being “that guy.”  You know… “That guy” who cuts in front of you in the lunch line, “’that guy” who just has to have the last word, “that guy”’ who has been the gift to education since he stepped into a classroom and knows absolutely everything.

I don’t like the labels “good guy” or “bad guy” either.  My job isn’t a movie plot or a professional wrestling storyline.  However, some will correlate good guy and bad guy, because that’s what was always done.

Some people will call me a good guy, some a bad guy, or, even worse, “that guy.”  While I don’t think I fit any of these personas, I’ll tell you what I think I am. I am the guy.

  • I’m the guy who was appointed by the Board of Education to lead a school district down numerous avenues, sometimes even trailblazing.
  • I’m the guy who is charged with leading principals, supervisors, managers, teachers, and all employees in any and all school interactions, as I have oversight of, either directly or indirectly, every district employee, all school programs, and all facilities.
  • I’m the guy who signs the checks, approves the bills, and makes sure we are getting the best that money can buy.
  • I’m the guy who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Education and am responsible for the administration and supervision of the school district in accordance with Board policies and New Jersey Statutes.
  • I’m the guy who will inspire, lead, guide and direct every member of the administrative, instructional, and support services team in setting and achieving the highest standards of excellence, so that each individual student enrolled in our district may be provided with a completely valuable, meaningful and personally rewarding education.
  • I’m the guy who is an ex-officio member of the Board of Education and serves on every committee, like it or not.
  • I’m the guy who advises the Board on the need for new or revised policy and prepares drafts for Policy Committee review.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the effective implementation of all constitutional or statutory laws, state regulations, and Board policies. Some love that, and some loathe it.
  •  I’m the guy who recommends for promotion, appointment, or employment all employees of the Board and assigns, transfers and recommends for dismissal any and all employees of the Board.
  • I’m the guy who assumes ultimate administrative responsibility for the health, safety, welfare, discipline, assignment, promotion and retention of all students.
  • I’m the guy who will report to the Board of Education on the conditions and needs of the school system and effectiveness of the policies and regulations under which the system is operating.
  • I’m the guy who supervises the physical operation of the school plant and its facilities and makes appropriate recommendations.
  • I’m the guy who is responsible for the general supervision of the instructional programs as well as the one who supervises research essential to the efficient operation of the school system and the improvement of instruction.
  • I’m the guy who makes recommendations to the Board of Education for its adoption of all courses for students as well as the purchase of textbooks, instructional supplies, and equipment.
  • I’m the guy who schedules meetings and professional development for school staff as necessary for the improvement and welfare of the school district.
  • I’m the guy who makes the call for the opening or closing of school during emergency situations.
  • I’m the guy who has to enforce Board policies and implement Board goals whether I like them or not.

I could go on and on for another 8 gazillion bullets, but, hopefully, you get the point.  Bottom line: If it has to deal with school, from a broken pipe to a broken link on the website, I have something to do with it at some point.

You can love me, you can loathe me, or anything in between and outside of the scope of that, but know that this guy is here for your kids.  Kids first! Always!

I think I just finished by back-to-school address.  Here goes nothing.  If it hits home to one person, awesome.  If not, I have Dave Burgess to fall back on this year! 😉

Here’s to all having a great back-to-school year!

Second Hand News

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Summer is a time for relaxation, recharging, and for some, regrouping. I’m a big fan of just zoning out on the beach to some tunes. One of my favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac, was just on with their hit “Second Hand News”. I know the song has nothing to do with school, but the title sure does.

As a Superintendent, I am constantly addressing the rumor mill and second-hand news.  There’s not a day that does not go by where I don’t hear “well I heard that…” or “someone told me that…” or “is it true that…” To be clear almost every administrator goes through this. In no way, shape, or form is this unique to me.

Once you think you hear it all, something else comes along.  It’s constant, but almost expected.

Why would I waste time blogging about this? Simple; others folks in my position need to know it’s not just you, your district, or location. It’s everywhere. What you need to do is simply laugh it off and keep moving along. The only time I address rumors is when someone is personally being scrutinized for something.

Will rumors ever stop? Never. Will they dictate my life or my leadership. Absolutely not. Rumors are rumors, and peddling, laughing, and rolling with them is just as much a apart of school culture as snacks in the faculty room.

Armchair Quarterbacking 

Like most of you, I have kept tabs on the shooting of Harambe that occurred at the Cincinnati  Zoo. We have heard opinion after opinion, expert after expert, share their thoughts on what should or should not have been done. Then comes public opinion and what others would have done if they were in the same situation. This practice is often referred to “armchair quarterbacking,” the practice of trying to be an expert on something the individual knows only a modicum at best.

While it is certainly a part of our First Amendment rights to speak freely, we often get lost in what actually happened.

An incident occurred and professionals responded.

We often forget this before criticizing. We see it daily in the news from police procedures to government responses. While we may not agree with the way things are handled, in most situations, professionals are trained to deal with the incident.

When I was teaching, I often heard from non-teaching friends about how easy the job is, how we get the summers off, how they would teach and make our schools better. My response was (and will always be)

If teaching is as simplistic and uncomplicated as you make it out to be, get your cert and walk in my shoes for a day. Then we’ll talk.

In my current role as a superintendent, I’m the main target when it comes to criticism in schools. It’s a part of the job. No matter what happens, you can’t make everyone happy, and you’ll burn yourself out if you try. Just as when I was teaching, I tell folks the same thing when they start criticizing every move I make: get the cert and help those of us in these positions fix the problem. 

Sometimes my biggest criticizers are fellow educators. In a previous district, there was a small pocket of folks where, if I said the sky was blue, they would be the first to disagree. While that wasn’t bothersome, what was is that they spent 24/7 talking about whatever it was. They tried to sour colleagues, parents, and stakeholders; they tried to take anything I said and twist it into something else. Their paranoia or guilt drove them to do or say anything and use their own time doing it. Why would I care if it’s their own time? Those educators (not in my current district) could have actually invested in their lesson plans or their students to make their classroom an amazing avenue of learning.

I close with this.

Before you start criticizing something you have no relevant background in, think about the professionals who are charged with making the decisions. Yes, it’s not going to work out every time, and, yes, mistakes or intentional actions will be made on occasion, but those professionals are trained and are experienced, whether you like it or not.

Put your energy into something positive and productive. Those who surround you will thank you.

The Wheaties Box

Recently, when I was catching up with former classmate Nick Ferroni (Union High School c/o 1997), he tweeted the following:

This had me thinking all day.  Have we ever put teachers on Wheaties?   I started poking around online and came across numerous news articles and reports on the history of the Wheaties box.  It’s pretty neat to review some of the greats who have appeared.

  •  Bruce Jenner – the Olympic decathlon winner
  • Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest boxers in the world
  • Mary Lou Retton – a gymnast who obtained a perfect 10 in the Olympics
  • Michael Jordan – a basketball player who is one of the best since the inception of basketball itself.

While it’s honorable that we acknowledge scads of sports celebrities, why don’t we do the same for those who impact lives of all ages?  Why not go the extra mile to honor those who helped get these athletes to where they are/were today?   Why not put other heroes besides athletes on the Wheaties box?

Apparently I’m not the only one asking.  While there have been many petitions to get folks on the box–some even on the change.org petition website–we have not seen any non-athletes as of late.

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day this week, I hope that everyone, both in and out of the education arena, understands that this is how we should be honoring our educators, not just on Tuesday, but every day.  I hope to Photoshop every teacher on a Wheaties box by the end of the school year.  That’s how much I think of them.  That’s how you should honor your teachers, too.

When you think of Wheaties and educators, you should be thinking of champions.

image credit: Nicholas Ferroni

9 Nintendo games that make me a better Superintendent 

I am child of the 80’s which means two things.

  • I am a fan of professional wrestling.
  • I played my Nintendo every day.
    image credit: nesaddicts.com

Yes, I still play video games, just not as much, but on the days I play them, I do yearn for my 8-bit NES.  Looking back, there are some quotes and images from some of my favorite games that have made me a better teacher, administrator, and superintendent.  Here are nine of my favorites:

1) The Legend of Zelda was a staple in all households with a NES.  One of the first actions in the game was to get the sword.  No, I am not advocating for  weaponry in schools, but it is indeed dangerous to go alone in education.  If you do so today, you’re foolish.  We have a zillion tools that connect us.  Why not talk to others in your position?  Why not connect, grow, and put yourself in a better position?

2)The end of Predator for NES was a simple one; it’s the screen above.  This reminds me of my first year as a teacher, vice-principal, supervisor, and definitely superintendent.  Getting through your first year of anything is tough.  Celebrate the small things – like surviving!

3) I always had a good laugh when I saw this when playing The Adventures of Link. The character was named Error.  I always thought about this game when I made a mistake.  It’s very important to realize that it’s okay to make mistakes.  I have been “Error” many a time and I will be in the future, too.  It’s how I learn; it’s how we all learn.

  4) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a goofy movie but was also an awful NES game.  This screenshot above was the end of the game, and the message is simple: be good people!  I preach this wherever I go.  You don’t need scads of degrees or massive experience to be a good person.  Being a good person allows you to go very far in life.

5) Double Dragon was a fun fighting game, but the story line was odd.  This slide says much, though.  Making yourself the focal point will get you very far in your own mind, but in the rest of the world…not so much.  While we grew up in that everyone-gets-a-trophy-and-certificate cycle, being all about yourself is simply embarrassing.  Real leaders and educators empower those around them and lift them up.  When you focus on learners, learning takes place.  Period.

6) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was everywhere and anywhere when I was growing up.  At the end of the TMNT NES game, Splinter (a rat if you can’t recall) morphed back into a human and said the above at the end of the game.  I often think about how everyone around me has “excelled” my skills.  Thanks to so many social media platforms, we are connected at the snap of a finger.  Even more important, jobs which were typically isolating, like superintendents, are now connected more than ever.  Those connections have excelled my skills!

7) Metroid was fantastic, but the message above tells much more.  For the longest time, I took everything so seriously.  Why?  Yes, education is a serious job, but we certainly can relax just as everyone else can.  There are times when you return to base immediately, but there are times where your family and “me time” come first.

8) Super Mario Brothers is one of the best games ever created.  What kept you going?  The message above.  I actually have this hanging in my office.  Why?   Because there is always something that can be done.  It keeps you going.  There’s always something to work on. The princess is always in another castle!

9) NES Pro Wrestling was a fantastic game–awful graphics, awful wrestling moves, awful everything, but, when you beat the game, you received the message above. So silly, but it always felt good.  It was a sense of accomplishment!  It’s a message that everyone wants to be.  It’s not always about winning; it’s about getting to the goal.  I set meaningful, achievable goals just about every day.  I don’t care about the winning.  I care about reaching the goal so that we all can succeed.

On Slow Bus Ride to China: 3 Initial Takeaways

Ella, please don’t be upset that I procured your song title, but for those that didn’t know, there’s a lot of traffic in China. A whole lot.

I can’t even begin to summarize how amazing my trip to China was. Surrounded by fellow Administrators, Superintendents, and BOE members, we had superb conversations and saw things in ways our educational eyes are trained to.  

So much to share, and most of my pictures will do the talking. Here my big three initial takeaways:

the ELL class had about 60 students in the room!

1. Nobody cares about your party planning. I’m into details when planning an event in school. I want everything to look perfect / reflect education, feel comfortable, yet professional, and if I am having several people in for a meeting, I want decent food and coffee. All of that in China does not apply at all. Sure, we ate food, but never at the schools. Most buildings were dilapidated at best, and cleanliness was not the priority. Why?

 Because the focus is on learning. 

What does a coat of paint have to do with teaching? You’re cold? Wear a coat. Hungry? Bring a snack; it’s not the set of Iron Chef. These are my interpretations of what I saw. 

one of the arenas where PE classes were held

2. Some of those “elite” private schools that wealthy US folks pay to get in? They’re hogwash in China too.  Educators know when they see good lessons and gobbledygook. To quote one person from the trip, “Every teacher we saw in this Private school was on the B-Squad.” By far, some of the poorest instruction and class management I’ve seen. These “educators” wouldn’t be on the B-Squad; they would have been on the unemployment squad. The worst part? I’m pretty sure that the parents that have them in the school think some mind blowing education is taking place. Nope. I truly felt bad for these high school students. We all know that some of this malarchy is happening in US schools, but I can’t imagine the hoodwinking is that bad.
  3. Kids are kids…anywhere. This may sound a bit offbeat, but I was under the assumption that we’d see all seriousness and silence from sunrise to sunset. We saw smiling and laughing, some bored and “playing school”, and even saw kids just being kids. Thousands of miles apart,  compiled with a very different culture, and kids are still kids.

More to come on this with collaborators for an EPUB from Glenn Robbins and Spike Cook later on. Until then, I’ll be drinking my coffee, watching scads of awful television, and working on this whole Ed.D thing. 

Onward! 

More China:

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

Scaling Back – trim the fat first!

In four days, I received five emails from colleagues asking me how I would realign a school or district based on low enrollment.  Kudos to them for starting to prepare for the 16-17 school year! I’m just looking to get my buildings open.

So, if anyone else asks me, here’s my two cents on trimming back when low enrollment hits a building (it should be noted that this is NOT a reflection on my current or any former districts… we have some muckrakers out there that try to interpret my words to be something they are not):

1.Perform a needs assessment. Remember those KWL charts we all used?  Make one with three categories:

What I Have

What I Need

What I Want 

2. Make a scattergram of what personnel and programs you currently offer and mirror it to what is required from the state. It’s a crummy thing to do, but it has to be done when you go into survival mode.

3. Make the electives part-time. While I am all about athletics and the arts, some things have to be reduced to meet your needs in tough times.  If you haven’t explored sharing electives, start.  Sometimes, the teacher or the program is so bad that other districts won’t bite, but hopefully that won’t be the case.  Or even worse, a district signs on and then reneges the offer, leaving you with a full-time, crummy program.  Talk about a disservice to students! Additionally, it’s hard to justify to the public a full-time teacher only teaching one class per grade level when other teachers are teaching 40+ a week. You can TRY to get creative, but we all know it comes down to cash.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.  As painful as it is,  seek sharing services… or cut them to what you need.

4. Cut the emergency cert hires. Chances are those emergency hires are more of a pain than anything else. And you also know that most emergency certs are of last resort, for whatever reason (lack of cert, last minute placement, you couldn’t get anyone else, etc.) Nix and replace from the in-house pool.

5. Explore privatization options and shared services. From your aides to your administrative assistants, you can always explore other services or shared services at a lower rate. Sure, quality comes into play, and for the most part, I agree with ‘you get what you pay for’. Be careful with this route.

6. Don’t re-budget for retirees and “the inefficient” (AKA the useless).  People don’t like me saying “useless”, but look, they exist in every building… from Superintendents to Supervisors, custodians to cafeteria workers… we’ve all worked with someone where you sit and scratch your head wondering “how did this person get a job?”  Was it Daddy on the BOE and nobody else would hire you?  Or did she / he marry a BOE member and divorce them once they got tenure? Whatever the inefficiency is, hopefully your Principal / Administrator placed those not efficient in positions that are created for minimal student / public interaction.  If they have to interact with students, hopefully they are in a position where they don’t have to grade. If you hear that they are retiring, you don’t replace.  If they are sticking around, the phrase ‘less is more’ applies – the less interaction with students, the more achievement your students will have.

7. Don’t RIF, eliminate those that aren’t cutting it.  I think the RIF is the most wimpiest way to let someone go.  If that what it absolutely comes down to, then you have to.  If you have others that are not doing the job to every expectation you hold them to, let them go!  If there is no longer a need that the service they were hired for, you let them go.  The hardest thing that people have a hard time digesting is that  schools are not employment agencies. There is nothing more that I hate then having excess people around just to have it.  Don’t make it a last in, first out routine.  Make it a ‘ you’re not cutting it, it’s time to move on.’ Do what you need to do to save good people!

8. Get creative with your schedule. You can easily add classes for electives, giving teachers more prep times. You can add K-8 / K-5 teachers with electives to offer more variety. Maximize each person; stretch it out!  Chances are it ends up offering more to students. The worst thing that you can do – change the schedule once it’s finalized / optimized for students.  Going backward only impairs  students growth. Don’t succumb to peer pressure.  Stand your ground.  Remember – FOR THE KIDS!

9. Be straight with the staff  and the public. Don’t spring this on anyone.  This is not an easy topic to deal with — you’re dealing with lives here.  People need to have a heads up as soon as possible so they can prepare their respective next step. People will react, people willbe sad, people will revolt against you, but

So, if you’re already in that spot that’s looking for the next year, kudos for planning ahead, but it’s not fun planning.  But, chances are that if you’ve read this far,  you’re the administrators who are charged with making these decisions. You all know that we can’t make everyone happy, but we will continue to do what’s best for schools.