Straight Outta Worksheets

A few summers ago, the blockbuster movie “Straight Outta Compton” was everywhere. Besides bringing back a whole wave of great memories of music I grew up with, people had quite a bit of fun with meme action. I saw almost every town and every object inserted after “Straight Outta.” One meme in particular caught my attention: “Straight Outta Worksheets.”

I first saw this on a T-shirt of presenter Carl Hooker. Yes, his last name is Hooker, and you can find him on Twitter sharing some amazing things. I first met Mr. Hooker at the 2017 PETE & C conference in Hershey, PA, after he keynoted the opening session and offered some workshops. He told me about a conference he held in Austin, TX, called iPadaPalooza. I hope you get the focal idea of the conference (I went this past summer; amazing was an understatement). In the opening kickoff, Mr. Hooker donned the “Straight Outta Worksheets” T-shirt. The crowd went wild. I loved the shirt so much that I ordered one on eBay.

Besides loving the idea, I was chuckling to myself on how it would be received in some schools. I’ve worked in places where worksheets are so frequent that the paper changes color by the end of the year because their order of white paper runs out. When I taught, we had someone from Xerox who was paid just to run our copies. If we had bulk items, they were to be sent to central office to the duplicating room. I’ve also seen schools where you’re given one pack of paper for the entire school year. Depending on the district, some teachers would laugh and high-five the T-shirt; other places would file 6 grievances and seek an affirmative action investigation because they found the shirt offensive.

The message to the attendees was clear: what good does scads of worksheets do? Do you save them to reference the following school year? Are the worksheets going to change your life? Will they be the catalyst to get you a job or succeed in life?

Friends don’t let friends give worksheets. Pass it on. It’s time to really drill down and harness the power of technology that students use daily. Save a tree, and save our future learners from nebulous work just because you’ve always done it that way..

Onward!

Blockbuster, Redbox, Netflix, & __________

The AASA Digital Consortium met in the last week of July in Roseland, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). The group consists of superintendents from around the country who are looking to continue to expand on services provided for our students while seeing true innovation and leadership by example. We were in Chicago last year and had our socks knocked off; this year did the same.IMG_0248We jumped right in and began to review the ISTE standards for administrators from 2009.  While we were all impressed that the standards did apply to today’s times, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent from nearby Leyden, IL. Nick and I were talking about the above slide and how, while some things change, there will always be folks looking back to the past and wanting to use what was comfortable to them before. Nick used the great analogy of how we had once had thisdownload-1 and then this download-2

and now many do this,download-3 and in the future we’ll be doing something I can’t list because it’s not in existence yet.

Now, Blockbuster isn’t entirely dead.  There are still stores in Alaska (a great story done by CBS Sunday Morning if you haven’t seen it) and there’s a great video from The Onion as well.

But…

The moral of the story is that we in education need to adapt, just as the rest of the world has. Education is one of the few (if not only) professions where the times have changed, but we are still implementing a system that was designed by a group of rich white guys from the 19th century, placed in facilities that are largely from the 20th century, and occupied with students who are in the 21st century.

Besides this brain-exploding moment I had, other highlights of this gathering included

  • Learning about all of the wonderful happenings in CCSD59 and how the focus in on employees, learners (who attend a year-round program in this school), and shifting from the traditional education system to learner-active classrooms (Pics below are from the year-round school’s media center / makerspace).
  • Exploring how Rolling Meadows High School offers its students design challenges The chair below was made with $20.00 worth of supplies and had to hold up to 40 lbs and how their physical education program will change the rest of the country. I firmly believe this.  Not only did they build an indoor track and gym under their main gym, but they are using technology to track everything from student recovery time to how students are using velocity to lift weights!
  • Speaking with recently graduated seniors from Wheeling High School‘s NANOTECHNOLOGY LAB to see how their studies have changed their lives.  Not kidding! This lab has millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment in it.
  • Examining future possibilities from the CoSN’s learning matrix.

In all, this was a superb gathering that showed everyone in attendance how education continues to evolve for the communities and learners we serve. I can’t wait to see what Seattle brings us in October!

Onward!

 

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.

 

 

::insert insult here::

With the US election 2016 in the books, we can all agree that it was an election like no other. We have seen, heard, and were dragged along on quite an experience. I live in a TV market where there was a highly contested race, so I feel I was subjected a little more. I never thought I would admit this, but I am happy to see all of the holiday commercials instead of the campaign commericals. 

This election year, I was honored to work with NEWSELA and NBC news; both national organizations asked to come in my district to not only shoot commercials, but interview students and teachers about this election cycle and the  challenges that it brought.

One of the continual issues that arise with students and staff was the use of language. You’ve heard the sound bytes; how does a teacher teach about that? How does  a student process that? Based on the responses from both parties — very carefully. 

What was nice to hear from all of the staff interviewed is that they didn’t have to review the blatantly inappropriate; everyone stuck to the issues. Students were presented  (and voted on) the issues. 

You can watch the NBC news segment by clicking here.

You can watch the NEWSELA segment by clicking here.

All educators should be commended for remaining impartial and presenting things in a simple, calm, noncombative way. Teachers  didn’t have to use vulgarity, call people stupid idiots, or succumb to election parlor tricks. 

Civility was disregarded in this past election, but was never lost in our classrooms. Good teaching will ensure it never will.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving  is right around the corner; with the holiday season in full throttle after that, we can hopefully put all of the nastiness into memory. 

… And onward we go!

The PLC: mandatory nomenclature

The holidays are a time for me to catch up with family and friends.  I had a chance to meet with some former colleagues, and as much as I try not to talk shop, it always ends up creeping in. We began discussing the usual admin stuff, and then a conversation about Personal Learning Communities (PLC’s) arose.  The practice has been in place for most of New Jersey for around eight years. The colleague was rather miffed at fellow colleague responses to say the least.

One of the many pitfalls of being in a small school is the lack of time, lack of interest (due to previous administrators trying to implement it incorrectly), or collaboration; not because folks don’t want to, but there is no other person to do it with in the same field (i.e. one art teacher, one 4th grade teacher, etc.). Being on your own island all day is tough, but it does not have to be so hard to the point of isolating everyone else.   Thankfully, the internet and the explosion of Personal Learning Networks has allowed those in singleton situations to connect, learn, and grow. The roadblock in this case was very clear – not wanting to do it.

The colleague tried to revise my previous program and attempted to establish  some PLC action.  It didn’t have to be followed to the T, but a modicum of dialogue was the only item wanted. If the PLC was established  – to talk even bi-weekly for a few minutes to simply go over some vertical articulation – it would be beneficial for every learner in the school.  The colleague has spent at least two months exposing and adjusting students to the common core standards, something that the students have not even seen before because that teacher does not even understand what common core is nor is going to even try to. The colleague wants

Instead, the old-school with the ‘we’re not changing mindset ‘ interpreted the comment as “the teacher is not doing the job” and got all offended.  Sadly, I’m not surprised.

This was the same building where I had the opportunity to collaborate with education specialists from the NJDOE.  These are full-time curriculum people, well versed in today’s educational practices and what kids need and how they learn today.  Invited them in for ELA and Math.  We orchestrated a full day to review model curriculum and see where it goes.  I started off the meeting and had to leave to take care of administrative duties. The moment I left, the gripe session started. And it wasn’t a 15-minute session (which is in every place) – for almost TWO HOURS – by the same person.  Every idea was shot down; every suggestion or tip was met with an eye roll.  The worst part – there is no other place to put this teacher because it’s a small school.  Fast forward to a week later, the curriculum specialist came back to me, with her supervisor, to tell me that she could not work with the team because of the one teacher’s domination of negativity.  I can’t imagine hearing anything worse than that.

I have mentioned in previous blog posts about “horse trading” and burying the useless. It’s very hard to do in a small school – especially when you already have a bunch of folks already buried in one place.

Back to the conversation at hand – the colleague was very sad due to the lack of cooperation and collaboration.  The colleague wants to get better and be the best of the students – not count down the watch until retirement. My advice was simple: stay on the path, chin up, and keep doing what’s best for kids.  Your hard work shines with those that mean the most  — our learners.  Until then, thanks for knowing that the PLC is a part of our educational nomenclature, not just a fad.

 

Anyone But Me

I know the Bammys have been the talk of the town lately, but it’s exciting. Why? So many of my colleagues, friends, and Twitter rock stars get the recognition they deserve.

While I’m still scratching my head over winning the “people’s choice” award, I woke  up to a bunch of tweets congratulating me as a final nominee for the category of Superintendent of the year.  

 
If you’re a connected educator, can you please take a look at this list? Seriously, read it again. How am I on this list?!?

  

Joe Sanfelippo is a legend. He took branding and all things positive to a whole new level. He has placed a hashtag on almost everything and everyone from coast to coast knows what #gocrickets means if you have a wireless device. Besides branding, he’s smart, delves into any conversation, and on a personal note, the man brought me cheese from Wisconsin when we were at EdCamp Leader last year (in exchange for a Taylor ham, egg & cheese on a real NJ bagel).  Oh yea, he’s hosting the Bammys with Tony Sinanis this year. Need I say more?  

   Mike Lubefeld is another rockstar I look up to as a Superintendent. Mike and I met virtually a few months ago and we’ve been connecting daily since. Always willing to lend a hand (and give me pizza advice in Chicago), Mike has headed up a number of initiatives, including the monthly #suptchat and is a staple on the Voxer group for Superintendents.  It was an honor to meet Mike in person a few months ago at an event at The White House.  Need I say more?

  Scott Rocco is…well… Scott Rocco! Scott was one of my instructors in the NJEXCEL certification program, and to be quite honest, I wouldn’t be who I am today without his help, guidance, and feedback. Scott walks the walk and talks the talk. Scott also loves 3D printers, so be sure to ask about them when you see him. Oh yea, he’s one of the founders of #satchat – you know – that weekly chat where hundreds of educators assemble to talk education. Need I say more?

 Patrick Larkin is another Dynamo. When I first caught on to the Twitterverse and how much one can get on here, Patrick was one of the first people I followed. Patrick and I met at NASSP in Tampa back in 2012 and had a great chat at the ‘tweet up’ (prior to Twitter being cool). He’s defined and demonstrated how to be a leader time and time again. Need I say more?

So, back to the post title, anyone but me. I am no where near the other four nominees. While I am honored that I’m in this group, anyone in this group but me. I’m a speck of sand on the beach of life here. I am, however, looking forward to a night of merrymaking with the four above and everyone in attendance in DC. 

That, and I hope to get a front row seat so I can make faces at Sanfelippo & Sinanis for the evening.

Onward to DC!

An open letter to President Obama on the importance of MakerSpace education

The following letter was sent to President Obama this week in support of the MakerSpace movement and the importance of kids being kids… and learning.  It was written in conjunction with AASA and the US Department of Education. For those Superintendents that have signed the Future Ready pledge, this is the second most important document to sign following the pledge.

May 30, 2015

The President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC, 20500

Dear President Obama, 

All children are born makers. They look at the world with a sense of wonder. They tinker and discover. They take things apart to question how they work. They build amazing things using any materials within reach. And they solve problems – for someone in their community or halfway around the world. Inherently curious and creative, children are naturally drawn to making as a way to explore the world around them. 

As leaders in education, we are excited about the growing Maker Movement and its potential to transform the way our students learn. An open-ended process of creating, making includes a wide spectrum of activities – from building furniture to growing a community garden, from upcycling to coding, and so much more. Making involves utilizing the design process, learning to use tools and materials, as well as documenting projects and sharing them with others. These experiences challenge young people to combine critical thinking, imagination, and persistence to solve complex problems – with the ultimate goal of students seeing themselves as producers, not just consumers of the world around them.

By focusing on personalized, interdisciplinary learning experiences that are student centered, making can motivate and inspire young people to develop a deep and lifelong engagement in, and love for, learning. We believe this approach not only improves their academic performance, but also prepares students with core skills for careers in any field – particularly in science, technology, engineering, design, advanced manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. While making is not a new concept in education, with a growing community of supportive educators, leaders, and families, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to move this idea forward in classrooms and schools across the country. 

Last year, you hosted the first White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” We couldn’t agree more. We must ensure that all of our children have access to these opportunities. We need an “all hands on deck” effort from school leaders, teachers, parents, skilled volunteers, companies, and more – to broaden participation in making, tinkering and inventing. As school administrators – superintendents, heads of school, district leaders, principals, and others – we want to do our part to make the most of these opportunities. 

As the White House prepares to celebrate a Week of Making this year, we are committed to getting started or to continue our efforts by taking  the following steps: 

• Invest in the creation of and staffing for a dedicated makerspace for use by teachers, students, and the wider community;

• Identify a champion or lead educator at each school who supports all teachers with the integration of making into the curriculum; 

• Offer professional development opportunities and follow-up support for teachers in our schools or districts to integrate making into the current curriculum; 

• Empower students to do capstone maker projects and showcase the process of their work through activities like School Maker Faires and shared portfolios; 

• Develop and implement strategies to engage all learners in making and diversify the pool of future innovators; 

• Develop strategies to allow older students to engage in peer mentoring for younger makers; and

 • Engage our parents and community members to support these efforts and to create a vibrant maker ecosystem. 

Thank you for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to make this initiative a huge success.

Jason M. Eitner

Superintendent

The Lower Alloways Creek School District

Pairing up with the NJPTA on PARCC

I was proud to recently collaborate with the New Jersey Parent-Teacher Organization on posting a blog about how the End-Of-Year portion of the PARCC test was MUCH easier than the first. Feel free to comment and share below:

Increased Confidence in Second Window of PARCC

May 22MR. JAY EITNER
SUPERINTENDENT

THE LOWER ALLOWAYS CREEK SCHOOL DISTRICT

My school district, Lower Alloways Creek, is located in Salem County — a rural, working class community that can sometimes feel a bit disconnected from the rest of New Jersey. While in many ways, we don’t enjoy the same opportunities to collaborate as other more centrally-located districts across the state, our community deeply values education and prides itself on our ability to keep pace with the rest of the state and maintain their local cultural heritage.

So naturally, when it came to transitioning to the new PARCC test, our approach was to tackle it head on. We began preparation about year ago and focused on integrating PARCC scenarios into the classroom that would familiarize kids with the testing style and environment. I’m not talking “teaching to the test.” Since PARCC is aligned with our state education standards, our teachers were already covering the concepts that students would be tested on. Where we did need to prepare, however, was ensuring that our students were comfortable with this different kind of assessment.

Overall, our preparation proved highly effective and, at the risk of sounding over the top, test rollout went splendidly. The flexibility with the PARCC testing schedule was the biggest improvement from previous statewide assessments and made the lives of us administrators significantly easier. The ability to set testing schedules so they are convenient for each class helps to minimize disruption. NJASK had set schedules which didn’t allow us to move things around to minimize testing time, but now, when a student finishes they have the opportunity to pursue other interests or if the whole class finishes, they can get back to teaching and learning.

The administration of the second PARCC testing window has been significantly smoother than the first for our district. We’ve had a chance to address some initial hiccups in administration, many of which we had anticipated, and we’ve seen confidence and comfortability with the new assessment swell. There appears to be far less hesitation from parents and our teachers and students are notably more at ease. From the perspective of a Superintendent, this shifting outlook is really promising because when it comes to testing, comfortable parents, teachers and students make all the difference.

Now we are eagerly looking forward to the data that the PARCC assessment will offer. The new score report should provide parents and teachers with information that is significantly easier to interpret as well as more applicable to the classroom. Beginning next year, PARCC score reports will provide nearly real-time feedback on the areas that each student needs to develop, allowing our teachers to pair this with other performance measures and support our kids where they need it most. For the first time, Lower Alloways Creek will be able to effectively compare performance across the state and country, helping us to ensure that our students, regardless of a rural New Jersey zip code, are on track to meet the demands of what lies ahead.

The original article can be found at:

http://bestfootforwardnj.org/increased-confidence-in-second-window-of-parcc/

Three Takeaways from the NJASA Spring Conference 

Some in education think a “Superintendents Comference” and they think this:  

  Or they think this:  

It’s neither! It’s a group of professionals, young and old, together, collaborating to ensure what’s best for our students. 

The NJASA spring conference took place last week. A time for Superintendents and central office personnel to get together, collaborate, hear some great speakers, and “get off the island” to socialize with those in the same position.  Every conference is a little different — this one is much more laid back (no BOE members, teachers, no building level admin) and offers more opportunity to have those paramount face-to-face conversations. 

My takeaways: 

1) Great keynote speakers. There are smart people and there those who are so smart you try to understand how smart they are. Our first keynote was V.A. Shiva Ayyadyarri. Born in India, lived in NJ, and has done lots of things so far in life, like invent email. Seriously.  Never did I ever think I would get to meet the person who invented email. A fascinating lecture on innovation and what we need to do as school leaders.

2) I learned how to incorporate STEAM into a garden. Yes, you read that correctly. The admin team from Mount Laurel (perhaps I’m biased because I live here) presented a great workshop on not only the steps to create a sustainable garden for students to tend to, but how to archive it with student-centered activated from start to finish. Everything from the design to what was being grown was student lead. The garden eventually brought in parents and members of the community to show how they became “stewards of the environment”. Really cool stuff.

3) Conversations with NJASA officials and fellow Superintendents. Whether it was catching up with colleagues over a cup of coffee, or the side conversations in the halls showing people the benefits of social media, nothing is better than seeing everyone together. At one point, Rich Bozza, the NJASA Director, called me over to his table to discuss some current and future programming. This continued into the evening, as pacts of Superintendents showed up by county to discuss various issues. One of the best moments of the evening was to meet with Dr. Lamont Repollet, the Superintendent of Asbury Park. We had a fantastic conversation about Twitter and how to harness its power. I’m glad we connected face to face, and now our doors are open.

As for my presentation, I felt it bombed. The internet cut out, my projector blew a bulb, and my links were not working. BUT – since we were all educators in the room, we adapt, and we go. We still left energized and ready to bring back new apps and extensions to their districts.

All in all, a great conference. Looking forward to wrapping up the school year — and preparing for the next one.

Onward!

#InnovateNJ video – Growing. Learning. Innovating.

innovateNJ is New Jersey’s initiative  to support innovation and practice by fostering sharing and collaboration, cultivating projects, and convening practitioners and partners. We hope that your active participation in innovateNJ will help facilitate next-generation instructional practices that will promote and heighten the college and career readiness levels of our students. Part of the admissions process was to submit a short video with an overview on how we innovate — thanks to WeVideo, lots of stock footage, and Jeff Bradbury (@Teachercast), we assembled a great video in a short amount of time.  Not knowing where to start, we began pitching some ideas back and forth, I wrote an audio script, and it went from there.

Once again, the power of the PLN.  Collaboration, drive, and dedication to the craft. Not ‘ripped off, not petty, not pathetic’ as one person attempted to put it; pure collaboration and innovation.  Seriously – who would sit and belittle a colleague? Some call it hyper-sensitive, most call it sad, all call it a last-ditch attempt to try to save face.  Too late for that.

Back to what’s important, back in April the Office of School Innovation inducted the members of Cohort 2 innovateNJ Community.  Seventeen Districts from the State of New Jersey became part of the ever-growing innovateNJ Community.  After a welcoming speech from Assistant Commissioner Evo Popoff and Director of School Innovation Takecia Saylor, the members were treated to amazing presentations from members of theinnovateNJ Community who are already partnering and collaborating with other districts to bring best innovative practices to all students in their districts.

The Office of School Innovation congratulates the Cohort 2 members of the innovateNJCommunity.  After a lengthy and rigorous application process, seventeen districts were selected to become part of this vibrant community leading the way in innovative practices throughout the state of New Jersey.  The members were selected based on their established innovative practices across all schools in their district.

The application process is held twice per year.  Applications were open to all districts in the state of New Jersey.  In March, selected applicants were informed of their acceptance. Cohort 2 members had the pleasure of meeting one another at the Department of Education in Trenton, New Jersey, where the first convening took place.  New members also had the opportunity to network and collaborate with other members along with establishing partnerships with other new members.

The Office of School Innovation welcomes the Cohort 2 innovateNJ Community members:

  • A Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University of Jersey City
  • Burlington County Special Services School District
  • Fair Haven Public Schools
  • Linden Public Schools
  • Manalapan Englishtown Regional Schools
  • Middletown Township School District
  • Montgomery Township  Public Schools

 

  • Morris County Vocational School
  • Mt. Holly Township Public Schools
  • Mt Laurel School District
  • River Vale Public Schools
  • Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District
  • The Lower Alloways Creek School District
  • Toms River Regional School District
  • Voorhees School District
  • Warren Township Schools

Needless to say, I’m beyond excited for this program. Finally – GOOD TEACHING and INNOVATION are UNITED – and the state of New Jersey benefits. LAC is ‘officially’ paired with Mt. Laurel and River Vale.  Truth be told – we will be collaborating with Montgomery quite a bit – -lots to share with them – and lot’s to learn!

Here’s something else I’m really excited over: a map. Not just any map, this map:
innovateNJ districts

Why so excited? Being the lone duck ain’t so bad sometimes. 🙂

I’m proud to show all that an itty-bitty school District in rural Salem County NJ is doing the same things, if not more, than big-pupil, big-budget districts.

Zipcodes don’t and won’t determine a child’s education.

Onward.