Is It Me?

These past four years have been the hardest years of my career thus far. While they have taken me places I would never have thought I would go, both academically and physically, I do admit they’ve taken a toll on me.  Yes, I’m admitting it; being a superintendent is draining.

I knew it going in, but like all jobs, you don’t really know until you live it.

Has it been rewarding?  The best job in the world.

Has it been challenging? LOL, yes.

Is it everything I thought it would be? Oh, yea. And then some! 

Would I have gone down this path knowing what has and could happen? Absolutely.

Would I have done it all the same exact way, step by step? Of course not! I’m human; I make mistakes like everyone else.

Would I have taken the same jobs in the same places knowing what I know now? No doubt. I’ve learned so much about communities, family, and life!

I came from a blue-collar family. My dad was a CNC Machinist; my mom was a secretary. I was the first in my family (on both sides) to graduate college. While I went to a very expensive university, I never forgot my roots. It’s what made me. That being said, I spent most of my educational and administrative career in very affluent school districts where money was never a problem (but don’t be fooled, as the rapper B.I.G. said, mo’ money, mo’ problems – and different kinds of problems).

When I became a superintendent, I went to South Jersey. The 856. The land of hoagies, Eagle nation,  “pork roll,” and scrapple.  Why do I say all of these things? Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t know, there is a very, very big difference between North & South Jersey. And while I can scapegoat to the map below and blame it on this:

images.jpg

It’s nothing to do with that.

It’s  really this:

I’m the guy who willingly came into no-man’s-land, and I say that because people down there like it that way.  When I became a superintendent, I was hired (twice) in very small districts because they wanted someone from the outside and they wanted change.  Change they got. Do people really want change?  I have found in my career that people love to throw the word change around, but wanting to change…

The higher you move up the totem pole, the bigger your target gets. I knew that going in.  So, why even do it?

Because I can. Because I was made to do this. Because my passion is infectious. Because I don’t care about the size, money, or what you have or don’t have. Because I’m hell bent on proving that a zip code will not determine an education of a student. Because I have no problem not being everyone’s friend and don’t believe in playing politics to keep a job. Because I don’t mind having the hard conversations. Because I expose; I expose the great things going on in a school and also expose the bad stuff because no district is perfect. Because I am relentless and will never bow down to the old boys club or special interests. Because I know those who know me know that I will show everyone, everything. Because I never have anything to hide.

Is it me? Yep. Im a Superintendent. Deal with it.

Onward.

 

 

The TUB podcast – epsiode 2 is here!

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 20.48.49.pngI know, it’s about 1.5 months overdue.  I can blame kids, technology, or life.  I’ll go with all three. Episode 2 features the awesomeness of Dr. Brad Gustafson and Renegade Leadership.  Learn about everything from principal baseball trading cards to AR basics. Thanks for your patience. Enjoy!

https://goo.gl/i3Mwqm

Thank your (BOE) president today!

While Presidents’ Day is reserved for honoring and celebrating our American presidents, I can’t help but think about local board of education presidents today as well. Like any elected officials, some you love, some you loathe, but most deserve credit for the time they put in to make sure the best is being done for students. Most have great working relationships with their superintendent, and most know the role that they play. I do keep saying  most, because, well, there are some that do not. I’ll focus on that a little later. Below are three boards that deserve some credit this Presidents’ Day.

Walt Sheets is a proud member of the Lower Alloways Creek community–a retired worker from the PSEG power plant, an active community member, and most importantly to me, a father of four.  Patriotic, witty, and possessing an infectious laugh, Mr. Sheets always had my back. No doubt we had our disagreements and clashes in certain arenas, but he always acknowledged that the superintendent was in charge and listened to my recommendations. What I still admire about Mr. Sheets was his mantra, “You take care of you first, then us (LAC) second.” I learned so much during my time in the crick and owe much of it to him.

Kevin Blondina is a board president that I ran into (literally) by accident. Both of us were enjoying a cigar, and I asked if I could use his lighter because mine kicked. From that point on, we have had one of the most cordial, real friendships around. Mr. Blondina is a financial planner in Sussex County, NJ, and I was working in Salem County. While geographically far apart, we couldn’t  have more commonalities if we tried to. We always make time to catch up over convention dinners and text on a daily basis about educational issues and how they affect us. Kevin is another who wears his heart on his sleeve and wants nothing but the best for students and staff. His passion is admirable, and his leadership style is envious. I owe much of my newly learned diplomacy to him.

Fran DiRocco is now a retired board member. Spending over 20 years on a  board, a decade of them as the president, Mr. DiRocco has navigated through a sea of educational issues ranging from collective bargaining to switching a sending school district. Mr. DiRocco’s professionalism, despite any internal board conflict, has been nothing but top-notch. I was hired under Mr. DiRocco’s term as president and chose to join the district even when the vote was 5 yes and 4 no. Was I crazy for doing so? Yep. Was it worth it?  Absolutely. Besides being 10 miles from home, I was able to work with a board president who knew what needed to be done and backed me when I needed it most. DiRocco didn’t have some underlying agenda, had nothing to prove to the town, and wasn’t bitter or vindictive when things didn’t go his way. He stayed classy until his term expired in December and now thoroughly enjoys his time volunteering at his church and on the local OEM committee.

Needless to say, I admire these three current and former presidents immensely. They set the bar on what great things can happen when an honest agenda and partnership occur.

Now what about the bad presidents?  Yes,  they are out there, too. Sadly, there are presidents who

  • Run to the soccer field to rile up parents when they don’t get their way
  • Undermine a superintendent with a self-righteous political agenda in order to prove that they are right
  • Turn road bumps into sinkholes by taking quotes and data out of context
  • Fail to recognize national and local student recognition and replace it with canned naysayers and planted questions
  • Use the board president’s chair as a springboard to attempt to get on a municipal government
  • Use the president’s chair as a throne to show they are worthy (i.e. If they weren’t hired in town as teachers)
  • Apply a “past practices” mindset to today’s problems when attempting to lead

And, yes, there are scads of examples of this all over the  internet. You will also have the chance to read about some real whoppers by purchasing one of my quick reads this summer–available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble!


Okay, that was a cheap plug, but it is nice to know about the good presidents in the land.  Enjoy the holiday…and thank a president!

The Tech Conductor

Below is a post that was written by Jeffrey Bradbury.  I have been very proud to call Jeff a colleague and great friend since we met at the first EdCampNJ in 2012.  Since then, Jeff has helped me navigate the educational seas on a myriad of levels, ranging from creating a new district website to offering in-person professional development to support staff. Read his great post below:

The other day, I had a technology coach from a neighboring school district visit my school and shadow me for the day.  It was a fantastic experience and something that I hope to be able to do with other districts this year and beyond.  The teacher and I had a great day of learning from one another, but I couldn’t help but use the day to reflect on many of our common conversation topics.  One of the deep conversations we had was around the simple question: “What is a Tech Coach?

Rather than use this post as an opportunity to dive into what a Tech Coach is, and what a Technology Integration Specialist is, I would like to propose a question to my readers that might shed some light on how I have approached these titles and my current position for the last two years.  The question is one that might sound strange, but those knowing my background might find quite interesting.  Should I consider myself a Tech Coach … or a Tech Conductor?

Let’s dive into this topic …

Everything I Know … I learned From The Podium

It’s no secret that my background is in Music Education.  I have countless memories of rehearsal sessions, and amazing performances of the worlds greatest pieces of music.  About 10 years ago (or more) I decided that I wanted to get up and instead of sitting in the orchestra, I wanted to start down a path that allowed me to stand in front of the orchestra and work along side them to perform sonata’s, symphonies, and operas.

It was during that time that I started taking formal conducting lessons from several amazing teachers.  From there, I learned how to physically stand and present myself to not only an orchestra, but a paying audience, and of course work along side a board of directors to help promote my vision, the orchestras vision, and most importantly, the composers visions.

Of all the things that I learned in the world of conducting, these lessons stand out:

  • The conductor is the only one on stage that doesn’t make noise, yet his actions are what tie the group together
  • The musicians don’t need a conductor to know what to do. A conductors job is simply to start everyone and guide them through transitions.
  • Treat every musician with respect, but understand that different instruments require different needs.

It has been through these lessons that I approach every day as a Tech Coach.  It is through these lessons that I find myself more becoming a Tech Conductor.  Let me try and explain how these lessons can be applied in a school system.

From Podium To Classroom … and Back Again

When you break down everything that happens on the podium, it starts and stops with the simple concept of Respect.  I can honestly say that I have my good days and I have had my bad days as I learn how to be a Tech Coach to over 400 staff members.  As a conductor, you have your good days and bad days too.  You have your rehearsals where everything goes well, and you have those times where someone puts you on the spot in a rehearsal and you simply don’t know the answer.  This happens in the classroom all the time.

What is important is that you come prepared to every rehearsal, meeting, classroom, as prepared as possible.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, you always make sure you have a resource (your PLN) that can help you find the answer quickly.

From early on in my conductor training, I learned that the word Maestro is one that gets placed upon you from day one, but the concept of Maestro, a word that literally translates into Teacher, (or coach) is one that is earned day after day, rehearsal after rehearsal and is earned only through respect.  This is extremely true for Technology Coaches who not only work with everyone in a district at all levels, but must also be walking talking resource centers of technology and pedagogy that are essentially on call 24/7.

You Are The Only One Who Doesn’t Make Any Sound

In an orchestra setting, the violin players, play the violin, the tuba players play the tuba, and the bass players play the bass.  Each of these musicians or groups of musicians has an instrument that they can pick up anytime and practice.  A Conductor on the other hand has the orchestra.  There is no try way to practice late at night with an imaginary group of 50 people.  The preparation for Conductors is mostly mental and requires you to study scores of music and practice “gestures” in the air, sometimes in front of mirrors to make sure that the one single time you are in front of a group you get it right.

As a Tech Coach, it is very much the same.  Teachers have the opportunity to learn from their students every day.  They learn how their classrooms work, act, and interact with each other.  As a Tech Coach, you have just one moment to walk into a classroom and nail your lesson.  When you are given an opportunity to present in front of a building, you are given an opportunity to showcase your self in front of 150 (or more) strangers who are all there to learn from, and support you. They know you are in front of them to help them become better educators, but there might not be the same friendly connection that a teacher and a group of students has, or a principal and a faculty have.

Walking into a building to give PD is very much like bring asked to come into a new orchestra and guest conduct a rehearsal or performance without ever getting to meet the musicians.

Your Teachers … They Don’t Need You

Let’s face the fact that teachers have been teaching for hundreds of years without the need for a “Technology Integration Specialist.”  They don’t need “Tech Coaching.”  But … do they?

One of the first rules of conducting is … Show Up When Needed, and Get Out Of The Way …

There are times when you can simply tell a musician how to play something, times when you can describe a sound, and times where you have to grab an instrument from the violin section and demonstrate for a group.

This couldn’t be more truer as a Tech Coach.  There are times where I have worked with a teacher and my role was simply to answer a question or two and back away.  Other situations have lead me to helping them create a co-teaching lesson where together, we worked with the students on an innovative lesson.

In the classroom, the role of a Tech Coach is to quickly enter and assess a situation and provide whatever the teacher needs when they need it.  Perhaps it’s by simply answering a question and other times it’s by picking up the instrument to demonstrate how something should look or sound.

If you choose the right method of support, the group/teacher will appreciate your help and together the rehearsal/lesson will move forward.  If you choose the wrong method at the wrong time, you are libel to insult someone and create a situation you never intended to have started. As a Conductor and as a Tech Coach, it’s always important to know the personalities you are working with so you can quickly make the right decisions and choices.

Some Teachers Are Section Players … Some Are Soloists

If you really think about it, a school district is very much like an orchestra. To conceptualize this, lets break down the different parts of each.

The Orchestra

Violin SectionThe Strings

In the front of a symphony orchestra lies a massive section known as the Strings.  All together, their instruments are in the “violin family.” Their instruments look similar, they play with a bow, and there could be as many as 24 of the same instrument in each of the 5 distinct sections.  Together, they can be broken down into string quartets, trios, and often, composers write for them as either a full section, or as soli sections. Each of the subsections (violins, viola, cells, bass) are seated by rank (ability level) and there is a section leader who is for conversation sake, “the boss” of that section.

The Winds

The next group of musicians behind the strings is the Woodwinds. This section is composed of your Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets, and Bassoons.  They are your mid range, mid level instruments who are put in the awkward position of sitting behind the massive string section, yet they sit in front of the might brass and percussion sections so it’s often possible that while playing loud and proud they don’t get heard when the entire group is playing together.

Winds and BrassThe Brass, Percussion, etc …

Composed of the Trumpets, Trombones, and Tubas, Drums, Marimbas, Cymbals and all other instruments these musicians are highly specialized and are only in your group because, like the winds, they passed an audition based on their ability to be leaders and soloists.  When addressing these musicians a conductor should simply be able to describe in as few words as possible the sound or quality they wish to hear and it should happen with as little retakes as possible.  These are HIGHLY skilled and trained musicians who spend hours in a practice room learning what is known as “excerpts” or very tiny solo passages just to have the opportunity to audition for the group.

A School District

Elementary Teachers

Elementary Teachers, should be approached as a group. In any building, for example, you have several 4th grade teachers all teaching their own class, but teaching a common curriculum to the classroom next door.  They meet in departments to plan common activities but they often do their lesson plans on their own.  When you work with one and not the others, it is often not looked highly on. Sometimes it’s best to talk about concepts such as blended learning, or SAMR models, but they are also the first to allow a Tech Coach to pick up their instrument (classroom) and come in to demonstrate something new and amazing in the world of Technology.

Elementary teachers often have degrees in general elementary education rather than a specialized degree in a subject area and for that reason it’s often best to show a wide variety of examples and build lessons together.  Elementary Teachers and Buildings should be approached the same way a string section is approached.  It’s always best when you are able to demonstrate the concept as well as describe.

Middle School

Much like the proud woodwinds, Middle School teachers are caught between elementary and high school teachers. They have the hardest job because without them students don’t have a solid direction when they get into the older grades.  Also much like the Woodwinds, Middle School teachers are soloists who often times are remembered the most when a student looks back at their favorite years in school  Their hardest job is that they often have to work with a group of students who came from multiple elementary schools and haven’t yet jelled together as individuals yet … and oh, did we mention those wonderful puberty years.

High School

Much like a conductor should never (unless specialized themselves in the instrument) tell a brass player how to play the trumpet, a good Tech Coach should never (or hardly ever) approach a high school teacher and tell them how to teach their subject. . . Trust me …

High School Teachers are HIGHLY talented, and HIGHLY Specialized educators who command the respect of teenagers every day and for those reasons I love popping my head into classrooms each day, asking if they need anything and moving on.  Often, I find myself sitting down with high school teachers to plan out lessons the same way I would sit down with a soloist to plan out a solo passage in a symphony.  If you show them respect, they will reciprocate and come back time and time again because their only goal each year is to produce the best students and pass them on to college.

Ride (not swim) the wave!

I’m writing from the glorious D-terminal in Hartsfield-Jackson airport. I was lucky enough to find a plug by my gate, so why not tap a vein for a bit.

Conference season for education professionals is upon us. Almost every week, there is a conference dedicated to educational pedagogy, technology, practice, or all aforementioned. Don’t be fooled, the first year of conferences is fun and exciting; going around the country, trying new foods, seeing new things. But after the second year, it gets old. Quick.

This will be my 5th year of crossing the country for various conferences. Some I look forward to, some I don’t. They are long, long days filled with meetings, workshops, salesman shoving things down your throat, and lots of food and beverages. I can’t even do the food and beverages anymore since my bypass surgery.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very thankful and fortunate to do what I do, see what I see, and meet who I meet. However, many people don’t see the negatives of this; time away from home. Flying is still a royal pain, your hotel bed is not your bed, and seeing your kids via FaceTime is not the same as hugging your kids.

Moreover, when you hold a public position, many think that a conference is some vacation on the taxpayer dime. As I said earlier, maybe the first conference one goes to. Now, it’s work, with longer hours and not getting to come home.

Some members of the public go further and don’t want conferences to be funded. I can totally understand that; there are some fools who just go for booze and pool time. It stinks because it ruins it for everyone else. What the public needs to understand about conferences is that the ones I choose to go to are on the forefront of what’s happening in education and where education is going. Skeptical Board Members and weary taxpayers need to see the value in ascertaining information at the time so we aren’t allocating more resources to get to the spot that’s being offered. I often use the saying of  “Do you want to ride the education wave or spend thousands of hours and dollars trying to catch up to it?” The school districts that are trying to catch up are the ones that never get anything done, and when they finally get there, it’s too late and it’s off to the next wave.

School districts need leaders that are willing to take the time to ride the wave. Districts and boards who invest in time-punchers will do just that, and you’re left out at sea.

So, as I wait for my flight to take off, I’ll be riding the wave once again. As much as conference season sucks, it’s the time for the game-changers to show who we are and why we are who we are.

Until next time…safe flights everyone!

Broadband for 25 Cents!

Technology always moves at the speed of exhaustion, but the Obama administration recently authorized the LifeLine Modernization Act of 2016. The super short version: the 226-page act provides those families that live in poverty to qualify for a $9.75 internet grant for each home.

So what?

Well…the same exact families are also qualified for reduced rates at all national cable companies for $10.00 a month.

So…

Those families can get broadband internet for 25 cents a month!

Awesome, right?

The essential problem: how many families living in poverty are actually made aware of such an offer?  Few.  Why?  Cable companies are not advertising this (nor do they have to), and most schools are unaware of it. Those folks have to call the cable company and provide proof that they are in poverty. They also have to mention the landline grant to get the service. The cable companies are responsible for everything else.

Sounds easy enough, but for a family in poverty, it’s not the easiest thing to do. We need to spread the word.  All schools and all public entities should know about this. Spread the word!

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.