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!

 

.

Drunk Drivers Are Stupid

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a final meeting before the annual Project Graduation project that I have helped run for a number of years. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Project Gradutation is a program offered by many high schools in the United States, in which organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free activities are offered as part of a post-graduation party, as an alternative to student-run events involving alcoholic beverages or other drugs. Most run the program the night of graduation; some choose that weekend. The theme for this year was a simple one: drunk drivers are stupid. 

The program is a great and often is a final way to celebrate the entire graduating class together. There are often lots of carnival-like games, tons of food (often ending with a breakfast buffet around 6 AM) and of course a DJ. The event is typically sponsored by the parent-teacher arm of the school and local businesses. 

I can imagine what you’re thinking at this point; many of the kids are just going to go and drink another night. That very well could be the case, and truthfully, we as a school are not going to stop students from experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous decisions that they will come across. We can, however, offer all of the resources that we have as a community to deter students from making terrible decisions that can result in the destruction of life.

In the past, I have found visual deterrents to be very impactful. I previously blogged about what Hopewell Central High School did; a full blown mock fatal car accident, with the student council president dying in the wreck. Everything from the blood and crime scene markers to the funeral home showing up. It was full of lights, sirens, and sadness. It was painful to watch. That’s the point. 

I have also arranged for a car that was involved with a DWI / DUI to be “donated” to a high school and display it prominently by the main entrance or where my seniors parked their cars. Again, the image is gruesome, but it’s suppose to be.

There are also lessons that health / PE teachers complete, but as an administrator, I tried to get as many teachers involved. At HVRSD, supervisors also taught one class to keep us in the loop (I loved it). I had second semester seniors. We did a whole unit on why driving under the influence is stupid. We talked about the process, and how everyone can see this because it’s a public record. My favorite lesson was pulling up three different articles on high school party busts; the first two with descriptions & pictures, but the third one had an article with the names of every student who was arrested. That article was the game changer for many. In a matter of hours, your life can change, and not for the better.

I recently saw one statistic that a drunk driver who gets arrested has driven as much as 430 separate times under the influence. How scary is that? 

It’s facts like that that our future needs to be aware of. Drunk driving, or driving under the influence of anything, it just downright stupid and dangerous. We see Celebrities getting busted daily and glorified in our pop culture, but we also see kids who just graduated go through the same thing. 

 Nothing is more painful that seeing someone who worked so hard only to have their lives ruined or taken away because of stupid decision making. I’ve seen it on all levels in schools, from students to administrators; on no level is it easier to deal with. As leaders, we have an onus the make sure that whomever this happens to gets the help they need. 

Here’s to hoping you or a student from your town does not have to go through this. In today’s times where we as a society seldomly agree on anything, we can all agree that drunk driving is stupid.

To the Library!

In the world where we have scads of information at our fingertips, why are libraries still amazing? Because they evolve as we do. Well…some of them. If you’ve never come to appreciate your library, or you have a sucky one, I’m sorry. The power and resourcefulness of a quality library is priceless.

I was fortunate to have a superb library growing up. We had a wonderful children’s section, where we could even take out puppets and pop-up books. There was an ample variety of music, a great research section, and we even had an art gallery–always a quiet place to study, to jump into a great book, or even become engulfed in current events.

When deciding to move, one of the biggest factors for me was the library. As our times have evolved, so have most libraries, whether it offers videos, music, and now, in some places, even tools for our homes. Always offering community programming, the library is still the focal point of many in town. It should be the second biggest gem, schools being first.

I’ve worked in towns where there wasn’t a library and was dumbfounded. (Just for the record, when I moved to South Jersey, I had never heard of an all-volunteer fire department either). I’ve also seen libraries the size of my office, and they were amazing. Size doesn’t matter; what they’re offering does.

Recently I have been working with several districts to pair them up with local libraries to partake in cross-venture activities. In one location, the library was shut down due to poor attendance. We are going to open the school one day a week from 4 – 8, so that the community can come in for a variety of opportunities including the use of wifi, computer labs, and, yes, check out books. Another district is planning a weekly potluck dinner with each grade level taking a week over the summer to host. The coolest concept I have seen being planned is bi-weekly movie nights with “movies under the stars” featuring summer book club reads. How cool is that? I can’t wait to hear about the results.

In 2017, the library is still relevant. It’s still a place where learners of all ages can go and engage in a variety of activities. Don’t forget this as we all start going into summer mode. Check out a good book or enjoy a movie under the stars,  video game, craft night, potluck dinner, or perhaps some light banter. It’s what the library is all about!

Slut Shaming – Part II

 

imgres
image credit: netflix.com

 

If you haven’t heard the buzz, the Netflix mini-series “13 Reasons Why” has taken over many conversations in the educational community.  Based on the book by Jay Asher,  it focuses on high schoolers (set in today’s educational environment) with the usual cliques (cool kids, preppies, honors kids, jocks, band kids, and…). A student at their school, Hannah, takes her own life, and another student, Clay, returns home from school to find that he has received a package in the mail containing seven double-sided cassette tapes from Hannah, each tape detailing an incident and a person that played into why she killed herself.  They had been sent to several others before arriving at Clay’s door.  There were 13 parts on Netflix, and, after watching each segment, I had a nasty knot in my stomach. Some knots were from my own awkward high-school experiences; others were from the blatant evil that today’s students can be subjected to or can utilize.

I don’t want to give away the entire story, but it starts with an incident that I blogged about last spring–slut shaming.  (On a side note, that post gained a bit of traction when someone became completely paranoid and thought he/she was the only one who received it. This is not sexual harassment; this is educational information.) Hannah has a picture taken of her with a boy on a “date” which is seen by the boy’s friend and taken completely out of context.  His friend grabs the phone and then sends the picture out to an entire class, which eventually makes it around the entire school.

Topics include the aforementioned slut shaming, rape, sexual assault, cover-ups, and societal acceptance–the daily grind of what high-school life is today. High school is an interesting navigation as is.  Throw in today’s technology, and you have a whole new world–a world where previous generations can’t even begin to fathom what is happening in school anymore.  It’s no longer passing notes and settling the score at the flagpole over some stolen milk money.

Teen suicide is the second largest cause of death in the US. For every teen who commits suicide, at least six others are thinking about following that same path. Despite such a terrible statistic, conversations are happening every single day about getting people the help they need. While the series has launched a multitude of proactive stances and resources, it has also caused some copy-cat incidents and some concerns from mental health experts.

Thankfully, 13RW is a fictional story. It is meant to raise awareness of suicide and is not based on any single or real person. However, while Hannah’s story is not real, students often do have similar experiences and thoughts to those of the characters and identify with those they see on TV or in movies. Therefore, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in this series, and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them.

If you have watched the show and feel that you need support or someone to talk to, reach out. Talk with a friend, family member, counselor, or therapist. There is always someone who will listen. Suicide should never be a response to life’s challenges or adversities. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other crisis addressed in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most do reach out, talk to others, seek help, or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.

Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Although some might watch 13RW and see Hannah in that light, there is nothing heroic at all. In fact, 13RW can be viewed as a tragedy. It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for all types of distress and mental illness.  Treatment works.

Suicide affects everyone, and we all can do something to help if we see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk.  Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is okay.  It will not make others more suicidal or put the idea of suicide into their minds. If you are concerned about someone, ask him/her about it. Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to those who share their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.

In my opinion, how the counselor responded in this series is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and are a trustworthy source for help. While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do, so keep trying to find someone who will help you. If someone tells you that he/she is suicidal, take that information seriously and get help.

Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life. Memorializing someone who died by suicide is not a recommended practice. Decorating someone’s locker who died by suicide and/or taking selfies in front of such a memorial is not appropriate and does not honor the life of the person who died by suicide. Hannah’s suicide blames other people for her death.

Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide-loss survivors. If you are immediately concerned about yourself or a friend, reach out for help by texting 741741 or visiting  http://www.crisistextline.org/. You can also learn about emotional health and how to support a friend by going to https://www.jedfoundation.org/help, and you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 | En Espanol: 1-888-628-9454 | Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889 or by visiting Suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Dual Enrollment? Yep.

The face of education is changing each and every day.  Things that were not even crossing our minds five years ago are now expected. One of those things is dual enrollment.  Never heard of it?  Read below. 

Note: This post is available in original form at http://www.straighterline.com/blog/what-is-dual-enrollment/  and was composed by Beth Dumbauld of straighterline.com. 


What is dual enrollment, and is it something aspiring college students should do? If you are a high school student who wants to get some or all of your college core courses completed by the time you graduate high school, there are several things you’ll need to do to get started.

You’ll want to know exactly what your state requires — minimum GPA, the number of courses or hours you can take, whether or not the college or university you want to attend accepts all or only some of your dual enrollment courses and much, much more.

The requirements can be quite different from state to state. Not all colleges and universities unconditionally accept dual enrollment courses for credit. We have some resources for you to read that will help you figure out what your state requires and how you can start the dual enrollment process.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, dual enrollment is defined as “…students enroll in postsecondary coursework while also enrolled in high school…”or put another way, it is when high school students (usually juniors and seniors) earn college credits while enrolled in separate courses that are not part of their high school curriculum. This is known as concurrent enrollment. You may also see “early college” as a way to describe dual enrollment.

Dual credit” refers to students who earn academic credits at two institutions — their high school and a college or university that participates in dual enrollment programs.

Some typical classes that are offered for dual enrollment courses include:

If you are a home-schooled student and are interested in dual enrollment classes, you’re also eligible to take them, as long as you meet all of your state’s requirements.

Why Should I Consider Dual Enrollment?

There are several reasons why high school students should work with their parents and school to participate in dual enrollment programs. These benefits include:

  • Getting multiple credits either at a reduced cost or free, depending upon state programs
  • Save money on tuition costs, which will reduce total student debt for college grads
  • Allow economically disadvantaged students the opportunity to take college level courses through state programs– an opportunity they might not otherwise have
  • The dual enrollment classes high school students take may transfer to higher education institutions, depending upon the school
  • High school students who complete dual enrollment classes that are accepted for graduation requirements could graduate early and get a head start in beginning their careers
  • Many dual enrollment classes are offered online, so if the college or university you are interested in is not within driving distance, you can still take their classes

According to Jackie Weisman, a Program Associate with Sonjara, Inc., ” I was a dual enrollment student as a high school junior and senior (2000, 2001) at Chesapeake Community College and I truly feel like it gave me a leg up on the ‘college experience’. I remember at the time feeling like I was being given a taste of what college would be like from registering, purchasing books and actually attending and successfully completing the classes.”

However, there can be some drawbacks to participating in dual enrollment programs:

  • Students who are heavily involved in athletics or other extracurricular activities may find they don’t have enough time to do well in dual enrollment courses
  • Not completing, or getting a poor grade in dual enrollment courses are part of the high school transcript; this could negatively impact the student’s ability to get accepted at the college of her choice
  • Depending upon the school, dual enrollment courses may not be accepted for credit; without doing some research into the courses and the schools a student wants to attend, this could end up wasting time taking classes that won’t count
  • High school teachers who teach dual enrollment courses may not be as qualified as professors at the college or university level; your knowledge may not be as in-depth at the end of the course.

It seems like participating in dual enrollment programs carry some risk! However, this article goes over the basics at a high level, and there are resources you can research and find out exactly what the requirements are for your state and school. Before you commit to completing dual enrollment courses, be honest with yourself and look at your school schedule and lifestyle.

Do you have the time, energy and motivation to complete dual enrollment courses? Is tutoring help available in case you get stuck on understanding course concepts?

If you said “Yes” to this, then read on!

Who Is Eligible To Take Dual Enrollment Courses?

According to the Education Commission of the States, most states require potential dual enrollment participants to be in either the 10th or the 11th grade. However, some states waive this requirement if a student is considered to be gifted. Several states require a minimum GPA, including Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. Some of these specify a GPA of 2.0 out of 4.0.

States like Hawaii, California and New Mexico require written approval and recommendation from school officials for dual enrollment participation. Students in Oregon, Ohio and Kentucky must meet post-secondary admission requirements before being allowed to take dual enrollment courses. These requirements may vary from college to college, so you’ll need to work with the appropriate admissions office to get specifics.

Want to try an online class? Take two free lessons on us today!

How Do I Get Started On Attending Dual Enrollment Courses?

The process varies from state-to-state. In general, students should discuss their interest with parents and school officials. Multiple states require minimum scores on tests like PSAT, ACT or college placement tests. These states include Arizona, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Other states do not have documented processes, so students in these states Alaska, Georgia and the District of Columbia.

Open enrollment is not an option. Threshold requirements exist to ensure students have the best possible chance of successfully completing course requirements to earn a passing grade.

Is There A Limit On Dual Enrollment Courses I Can Take?

There are wildly varying limits, depending upon which state the student is in. In general, the caps on taking dual enrollment classes tend to be high, so it would be difficult to max out for most high school students. Some states have no set state policy, such as Alabama, Delaware, Missouri, Nebraska, and Arkansas. Florida states a student must be enrolled to earn at least 12 credit hours, but not more than 15 per semester. Iowa caps the number at 24 semester hours per academic year. Minnesota does not define hours but defines caps in course work years.

How Are Grades Calculated For Dual Enrollment Courses?

It is up to individual school districts to develop and apply a weighted grade or score on high school transcripts. Examples include Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Before enrolling in dual courses, review the grading/weighting/scoring criteria and methods with your individual school district. You should also discuss dual enrollment course grading with the college/university admissions offices you are considering applying to.

How Hard Are Dual Enrollment Courses?

If you already have completed challenging high school courses, you should feel confident about tackling college class work for dual enrollment purposes. However, unlike high school, where you go to class every day, most college and university courses only meet once or twice a week. In between times, you are expected to read and understand large amounts of textbook content, so you’ll need to budget time during the day and evening to keep up with the course pace.

If the textbook is hard to understand, you will need to make time to email or call the professor or find a tutor to help you. Tutoring will cost extra money, so consider how you would accomplish this.

Another consideration for dual enrollment courses is that you may have fewer projects to complete, but each one has a large percentage of your final grade. If you miss one major assignment, this could cause you to fail the class.

This is not to discourage you from taking dual enrollment classes but be realistic in your time and expectations.

Want to see how it works? Take two free lessons on us today!

Does Taking Dual Enrollment Courses Help Me During The Admissions Process?

If you’re considering taking dual enrollment classes, you need to research the admissions process for the colleges or universities you are interested in. For example, some colleges consider dual enrollment courses to be “double dipping.” If you don’t carefully research before taking the classes, you could find that your time and energy would have been better spent doing other things!

Are you a student athlete who wants to compete in your sport at the college or university level? There are NCAA considerations you need to understand. For example, if you want to take dual enrollment classes at a community college, but plan on attending a major university, those community college credits may impact your eligibility to play competitively. In addition, those credits may not be accepted for graduation purposes at the larger college or university. Again, doing some research and asking questions ahead of time may save you from being negatively impacted.

On the other hand, taking dual enrollment courses casts you in a favorable light, because you’ve shown motivation and initiative in demonstrating how committed you are to getting a college education.

Kristen Moon of Moon Prep LLC said ” As an independent college counselor, I always get the questions: “Will this help me with the admissions process? The answer is yes. Dual enrollment programs show initiative on the part of the student. It also shows a love of learning and an eagerness to challenge yourself. With the college admissions process more competitive than ever, students need an edge and dual enrollment can provide one.”

Some Final Words On Dual Enrollment Courses

You can see there are many advantages and benefits to researching on, planning for and completing dual enrollment courses. Here’s how you do it:

  • Talk to your school officials and find out everything you need to do in order to qualify for taking dual enrollment classes
  • Research the colleges and universities you’re considering applying to — get in-depth information from the admissions offices on whether or not credits fully transfer and if you are impacting your eligibility requirements by taking dual enrollment classes
  • Look at your schedule to see if you can budget enough time to successfully take and pass dual enrollment classes
  • If everything looks right for your situation, enroll and attend classes

Are you ready to explore dual enrollment requirements and qualifications now? Here’s an in-depth guide that breaks down eligibility requirements for each state.

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!

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.

 

 

Believe in Magic

When people talk about childhood idols & heroes, I always say David Copperfield.  No, not the character from Dickens.  The other character:

 

davidcopperfield0608
image credit: vegas.com

If you don’t know of the man above, David Copperfield is an international illusionist who has performed all over the world.  He did a series of specials in the 80’s and 90’s on television and currently performs daily in Las Vegas.

David Copperfield wasn’t just simple magic. There was spectacle; there were music and lights; there was a story; there was the attractive girl; there was the impossible becoming possible in a few minutes.  Illusions were almost performed like MTV music videos.  I was obsessed.

My love for illusions and magic was instantaneous. There was a magic shop in town that I was stopping in every day after school to either learn a trick or save up lunch money (sorry Mom) and buy a new trick each week.  At one point, I had a duffle bag full of all sorts of tricks.

AsI got older, I tried to break out into the entertainment scene.  I had  a clown costume and a mime outfit.  I tried rocking out some tricks and entertainment at street fairs and local township events.  I thought I had something really special in 6th-grade until I bombed two magic tricks on stage. I didn’t really generate much business in 7th and 8th grade, but I did manage to start a clown ministry program at my church. It was cool, but high school came along, and my bag of tricks retired to the attic.

Fast forward about 14 years to my first administrative position as an Assistant Principal in a middle school.  Truly a job where you will never know what will happen, I came across a special 6th-grade student named Max. Max had school phobia to the worst degree.  On many days in the beginning of the year, Max refused to leave the car. On the days he did, he was so reluctant to come in, he would be crying and sometimes even screaming. I was determined to find a way to get Max into school in a safe and quiet manner.

And then it happened. Like magic.

I went home that day and searched all over for my bag of magic tricks. I found it. Like riding a bike, the magic tricks came back after a few tries. I practiced on my wife and my dog.  I was determined to get the patter (a magic term for story) down and if there were any movements as well.  The next day that Max was refusing to get out of the car, I had my magic bag. While some Child Study Team members looked at me oddly for performing the vanishing coloring book trick to a 6th-grader who was kicking the door so I couldn;t open it, he was hooked.  Eventually, he asked how I did it.  That’s when I broke the magician’s code. I told Max I would show him how the trick works IF he came in. Just like that…magic.

Once a week, I would teach Max a new trick that he could try on his classmates and family members at home, but only if he could come in without fuss and go right to class. WE did this for about 2 months, and then he didn’t want the magic anymore; he just wanted to come into class.

I got to use the bag of tricks with a few more students in LAC, and even where I am now. The same deal is reached; if you {come to school} or {behave} or {get all of your homework done}, you can learn a new trick. Believe in the power of magic; it works wonders in lives of all ages.

 

Which guy?

imgres.png
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.

 

that-guy_340_414_90
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!

2016 State of the District

Below is my inaugural State of the District letter that went to almost 5000 homes in Waterford Township / Atco, New Jersey.

——

 FROM THE DESK OF:        

  Jason M. Eitner, Superintendent of Schools                                                                                         

May, 2016

Dear Residents of Waterford Township,

It is my honor and privilege to write my first State-of-the-District letter to you. Since August, 2015, I have had the pleasure of serving as your Superintendent of Schools and have had the opportunity to speak with teachers, administrators, parents, board members, community leaders, and many other stakeholders who value our schools.  The goal is to move our schools forward educationally while keeping our finances in check.  In fulfilling my job requirements, I wish to share with you our district’s current status and the steps we need to take in order to grow, learn, and progress in ways that are best for our learners and community.

Upon entering the district, I was charged with a series of tasks with special attention needed in the following areas: curriculum & instruction, facilities, spending, and a focus on our 6th-grade students that transition to the Hammonton schools.  After examining test scores, studying schedules, reviewing teacher assignments, and vetting our current instructional practices and programming, it was apparent that some big decisions had to be made.  Additionally, I reviewed the information from the feedback forums that the Board of Education had conducted when looking for a new superintendent.  The overwhelming response was a desire to change the status quo.  It was clear that my job was to return the quality of education provided in your schools to a level that would once again see our students achieving academic excellence.  You may have heard about some of the proposed changes and those that have already occurred.  As your superintendent, I have an obligation to share with you the overall status of the district and to help explain why these changes are necessary.

To begin, the 2015-16 School Report reflects that only 21% (1 out of 5 Waterford Township students) passed the math portion of the state performance assessment, and approximately 28% passed the English language arts section.  Currently, Waterford Township is the third lowest performing district in Camden County.  This is a grave number.  Not only are our students not receiving the education they deserve, but, as taxpayers, you know the value of the district’s schools directly correlates to the value of your homes.  These scores did not happen overnight.  Years of status-quo operations have held back our progression.  Given such drastic numbers, I have implemented a series of swift changes in the district that reflect meeting learners where they are today.  Updating curriculum and technology needs was essential, and, with that in mind, curriculum has been revised, academic coaches have been implemented, and numerous personnel have been realigned to ensure that your children are getting the best possible education.  Such swift change can feel jarring to staff and community, but my hope is that everyone will see what is at stake–the education of your children, the value of your homes, and the overall health and welfare of your community.

What students learn today, combined with how students learn, is paramount for their success. Traditional instruction is no longer meeting the needs of our learners, as evidenced by our recent state performance scores and years of failing scores in the instruction & practice category of the state monitoring program. Additionally, a lack of consistent curriculum, an adherence to “past practices,” and an absence of a clear vision and message have also hindered progression.  I am proud to inform you that these issues are being corrected and we are beginning to move forward.  I am also proud to report that many teachers, parents and administrators are in favor of change.

Social media has been introduced to our district, as I believe in meeting parents, staff, and students where they are in today’s times.  We are also keeping our schools up-to-date with infrastructure improvements to everything from HVAC systems to energy-efficient boilers.  

Please note that all of this change will not lead to improvement overnight.  However, over time, these advancements will allow our district to become the academic leader it once was before and deserves to be.  Like you, I want families to come to Waterford Township to raise their children because of our schools and be proud of our community achievements.  I would welcome the opportunity to speak with anyone regarding the issues addressed in this letter.  Please feel free to call me at 856.767.8293, ext. 3010, or email me at jeitner@wtsd.org with any questions, comments, or concerns.  

Together let us embrace the changes, support our staff, and celebrate as our students achieve success.

Yours in education,

Jay Eitner

Superintendent of Schools 

JE:ng