Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Important is Good Attendance?

I’m always amazed at the end of the year to see the recognition of students with perfect attendance.  What a great testament to their love of school, not to mention their good health. Every once in a while you find that student that has perfect attendance for multiple years. That likely means no flu, no strep, no significant accidents, good health and some great luck.

We have traditionally monitored attendance in terms of average daily attendance and truancy. Our approach would imply that we are most interested in whether you can document an acceptable reason for the absence, rather than the absence itself. I’m starting to think we need to change our perspective.

The Office of Civil Rights says that any child who misses 15 days or more a year will suffer academically.  They call it Chronic Absence and it will be a new data point for reporting in order to qualify for federal dollars in schools. Excused or unexcused doesn’t really matter in this measure. When you are not in school, you are not getting the opportunity to learn and when you miss too much, you fall behind. No make-up work can fill that void.

When I asked for a report on the number of children we have in Calvert County who miss 15 days of school or more each year, I was astonished. I expected Kindergarten and 1st grade to be the worst due to the typical early childhood illness and significant germ sharing.  And in some elementary schools that proved true, but not always. Sometimes the 5th grade had the highest percentage of chronic absence.

I found that students in our Title I Elementary Schools, those who qualify for additional help due to a large number of students on Free and Reduced Meals, had almost double the percent of students who were chronically absent than other elementary schools. What is the connection between poverty and attendance? Does that explain the lower achievement?

I found that at almost every middle school, the eighth grade had significantly more chronically absent students than the sixth grade. Why? 

At the high school level, guess which grade had the highest percent of chronically absent students? The seniors of course. But is that really OK?

Why does reducing chronic absence matter? *(For research, see: http://www.attendanceworks.org/research/)

  • Exposure to language: Starting in Pre-K, attendance equals exposure to language-rich environments especially for low-income children.
  • Time on Task in Class: Students only benefit from classroom instruction if they are in class.
  • On Track for Success: Chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student is behind in reading by 3rd grade, failing courses in middle and high school, and likely to drop-out.
  • College and Career Ready: Cultivating the habit of regular attendance helps students develop the persistence needed to show up every day for college and work.
  • Engagement: Attendance reflects engagement in learning.
  • Effective Practice: Schools, communities and families can reduce chronic absence when they work together.


My advisor in college made it clear and simple saying, “Showing up is half the battle.”  I found it to be true. It was practically impossible to fail a class if you were present each day. Our challenge is to implant that value into all of our students.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Some Summer

Here we are again.  Teachers return next week.  They’ve got just five days to get their rooms ready and their plans in place for the first day of school.  There will be faculty meetings and training programs on new technology or new classroom materials.   And of course they’ll need time to catch up with each other.  Did you do anything special this summer?

Having summer off has always been viewed with some jealously by those not teaching.  “Must be nice”, they say.  Heck, there are some who seem to think that everyone in the school district goes home for the summer.  I’ve been asked twice in the last month by individuals who knew I was school superintendent, if I was enjoying my summer off.  Really?

To those who are jealous and would like to have a big chunk of summer to do what you like, I invite you to try it.  Try teaching for a year or so.  See how much you think about teaching in your summer weeks off without pay.  You’ll see how when you take your own kids to the local pool or on vacation, you’ll likely be bringing a book or some school work with you.  See how much time and energy and money you spend on taking classes or developing materials for your classroom.   See how much of your own money you spend on books or classroom materials while you’re off in the summer.  Or perhaps you will see that you need to get a summer job to supplement the family income.   Each teacher does summer differently, but the good ones don’t forget about teaching.  Not even a little bit.

For me it’s always an exciting time of year to welcome the teachers back.  There is a buzz and energy in the community that other businesses don’t experience.  It is very unique to schools and I love it.

Welcome back.  Let’s get to work.  These kids aren’t going to learn to read without you. These kids aren’t going to become great problem solvers and team members by playing video games at home.  These kids are not going to gain admission into the college of their choice without your encouragement and support.   These kids need you.  They will remember you.  You touch the future. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Graduation Rap

At graduation this year I shared a little about the new Broadway Musical Hamilton.  Seemed to have a good message for the graduates.  It inspired me to write my own rap.  Here it is:

Here you are the class of ’16,

Ready to exit and ready to fix things,

In a country that needs you,

Leave the family that feeds you.

We wish you God speed, you

But I want you to heed.


Nobody pays for good grades.


Congrats on the hard work.

You made it; success lurks.

Your future is waiting.

And you’re anticipating

That I will stop talking

So you can start walking

Across this stage.

Then you turn the page

In the book of life

And act your age.


Yo, what’s your story?  

Will there be any glory?

Are you career ready?

Will you hold steady

To a dream you had

That you want so bad?

What’s your story?


Will you head right off to work?

Please don’t be a jerk

And choose to do nothing,

A big old couch muffin,

Growing your scruff in,

I hope you’re just bluffin.


Most of you should go on to college.

You’re going to need a lot more knowledge.

Could be trade school or tech school

Where you get the privilege

To learn more and burn more and build your image.

Yo, what’s your story?


When it comes to careers,

You will change your mind.

You’ll switch jobs a hundred times.

Try this and try that; it isn’t a crime.


If you’re lucky, you’ll choose right.

You’ll work in college with all your might.

You’ll finish in 4 years, or 5 years or 6 years or 7years.

Things could get tight;

I know parents whose big tears

Will pour down when the bills come.

Want the best for you and then some,

But huge loans for your mum

To pay is dumb.


My advice for those who just don’t know--

Community college is where you should go.

You’ll be close to home; you’ll save lots of money.

You’ll sleep in your old bed.

You’ll stay close to your honey.

The two-year degree could be it or just a start.

But it may take some time to follow your heart.


Yo, what’s your story?


Will you look for the glory of teacher or preacher,

Or maker of gravy?

Will you be on TV?

Will you enlist in the Navy?


Whatever you choose, or maybe it will choose you,

Your story is yours and no one else’s will do.

We’ve done what we can

So show us what you’ve got.

Go out there and show us that

You are not throwing away your shot.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Books on the Nightstand

The School Administrator, the professional journal for school superintendents, often features a bio on a superintendent who has achieved some notoriety.  One part of the bio I always note is what they call “Books at the Bedside.”  I guess the idea is that knowing what these great leaders are reading in bed might give us some insight into their character. 
I decided to take a picture of the books beside my bed and concluded that my character is old, dusty, scattered, varied and mostly unfinished.  I’m not sure what these books say about me, but I’m going to give you the big picture.   I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. 
On the top of the pile is an easy read by Barry Schwartz called Why We Work.  It’s a good analysis of the research behind why we do what we do.  What motivates us in our work?  What do employees really want from employers?  Interesting, but no big revelations for the school business.
Beneath that I found You Are Not Special by David McCullough, Jr.   A 30 year teacher and father of 4, the author has great advice for today’s teens.  This was a best seller based upon the author’s commencement address and other clever musings.
Then there are a couple of books that are there for those nights when you toss and turn and can’t sleep.  Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates is a collection of quotes, many yoga related, by the author and others about how to live a meaningful life such as: “You may not be what you think you are, but what you think, you are. Jim Clark”  
And there’s The Complete Book of M*A*S*H.  Lots of trivia on the TV show. Yes, I was a huge MASH fan.
There’s How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  Great book based upon recent research into how children learn and succeed from challenging environments that can help us recognize how to especially help teach children of poverty. 
There’s the book of West Virginia Curiosities, a Christmas gift from Jacque, about roadside oddities from my home state.  Yes, I’ve seen most of them.
There’s a magazine and there’s a cookbook.  We have lots of cookbooks.  And there’s an iPad.
Finally, there is this treasure - my father’s primer The Child’s World.  I found it in a box of stuff my mother gave to me when she was moving to a senior community.  In pencil, on the inside is the date 1-5-34.   He would have been 5 and ½.  There’s also his name written in cursive which I doubt he wrote and some child art that I like to think is from his hand.  Dad never went to college, but he made sure his three kids did.  Thanks dad.
So, that’s it.  You can draw your own conclusion.  I’ve decided it’s time to clean off the nightstand. Six-months from now I’m sure there will be a new stack.
What books are at your bedside?  


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Without Teachers, We are Nobody

The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to celebrate the hard work and dedication of those folks who dare to be teachers.  Those individuals who choose to spend their working lives in close proximity of children and young adults - teaching, coaching, nurturing, cajoling, supporting, guiding, loving.  Yes, I said loving. 

The good ones love their kids in proper teacher ways and show it in their own special ways – like spending their own money to buy clothes for that special one, giving hugs when appropriate, sharing snacks and treats for rewards, laughing and being silly, letting them see the human side, listening to their stories of home life or comforting the loss of a gold fish.

Unfortunately, teachers don’t often know if they really made the difference in the life of a student until years later.  So for the short term they get feedback in smiles and hugs and thank you notes from parents and the occasional special gift.  

I had some good ones.  It’s strange what I remember.  It’s all about connecting to kids.

·         Mrs. Janes, fifth grade, who tolerated my desire to keep the classroom supplied in guppies.

·         Miss Lyons, 7th grade, who did not get mad when I nudged her back in the crowded hallway, thinking she was a girl I liked.   

·         Miss Ford, creative writing, who prepared a lot of us for college and let us be funny at the same time. 

·         Mr. Weber, theater, who let me hang out in the wood shop.

·         Mrs. Christian, chorus, who let me drive her station wagon with 2 other guys to set up the risers in advance of the choir. 

·         Ms. Huber, Alg.1 and Trig, got me through. 

They were good.  Serious about their work, but made it interesting.

This time of year I like to fondly remember also those eccentric one’s who make me smile when I think of them.

Mrs. Hardmore – My 1st grade teacher who, upon learning that a certain little boy was kissing the girls on the playground, admonished the class that from now on “the boys will kiss the boys and the girls will kiss the girls.”  Probably the only time my father sided with me instead of the teacher.

Mr. Sutton – My 6th grade teacher who was also the principal of our small elementary school.  Always with his thermos of coffee and a finger in his nose.  Each year, someone put Ex-lax in the thermos.  He probably knew.

Mrs. Fromhart, French, her room was so highly perfumed that we all smelled like girls after class.

So, tell me or someone you know about your favorites.  We all have them and some funny stories as well.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What a Difference - $$$ for FY17

Last year we lost $4 million dollars and had to make significant staff reductions in order to balance the budget for this school year.  Now, as we work on a budget for next school year, we are relieved to be in a much better place. 
How did that happen in light of the fact that our enrollment went down by 24 students?
Let’s begin with county funds which provides about 55% of the operating budget.  With a loss of 24 students and an increase in required local contribution to teacher pensions, we’ll have $750,000 less next year for general operating from county funds.  This is based upon the assumption we will be funded at MOE (Maintenance of Effort), the minimum required by law.
Well that doesn’t look good does it?
But, Governor Hogan helped out a lot by putting more in the state budget for schools.  In spite of the loss of enrollment, the Governor’s budget calls for an increase of around 3% for Calvert County Public Schools – that’s $2.3 million. 
The Calvert County Board of Commissioners advised us that if we would include money for a step increase for our employees next year, they would be able to support it with more county funding in the following year.  So, we took $3 million from fund balance to provide a raise for our employees next year.  We are still behind in steps owed, but at least we won’t fall further behind. 
We also combed through and tightened up our budget to release more dollars for our priorities.  The end result for next school year is:
·         No lay-offs
·         A step pay increase for all
·         Increase in funds for student supplies
·         Increase in funds for classroom technology/digital learning
·         Increase in funds for special education contractors
·         And $1 million to cover increases in health insurance and workers comp

Wait.  It gets even better.  Last week we got even more good news.  Governor Hogan announced a supplemental budget that included another $1.1 million in one-time funding for Calvert County Public Schools to ease the burden of lost enrollment.  No decision has been made on how we might use that money, but my priorities lean toward security equipment and technology (including a modern phone system.)
We’re not rich and there is still much we need.  Most of our employees are still behind by 3 steps which could amount to $8400 annually.   Still, it is nice to have some sun shine on us for next school year.   I see good days ahead.

Friday, January 29, 2016

State of the Schools

It is the season for Governors and Presidents to talk about the state of things – State of the Union and State of the State speeches are common in January. Recently the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce suggested that we present a State of the Schools program to our business community and we were thrilled to oblige.

I don’t mind telling you we showed off a little. We held it the atrium of the new Calvert High School.  NJROTC students served as escorts and presented the colors. Andre Jones, CHS senior, played piano.  Welding students made centerpieces. Graphic arts students designed and printed the programs. And our culinary arts students prepared an awesome meal.

Following lunch, I had the opportunity to share with our business leaders a picture of what we look like, how we’re doing and where we need to be. I’ll summarize here.

What we look like:
·         Our 15,569 kids are 73% white, 13% African American, 7% two or more races, 5% Hispanic and 2% Asian.
·         Our 1,179 teachers are 75% white females and 17% white males. (This is why we have a goal to improve recruiting for greater diversity.)
·         Our 105 administrators are 51% white females and 35% white males.
·         Our 781 support staff are 69% white and 28% African American.
·         We have a general operating budget of $196 million of which 59% comes from local support.

How we’re doing:
·         Math and Reading scores as measured by PARCC are well within the top 5-10 districts in MD, except in Algebra II, where our curriculum is not aligned with PARCC.
·         Science proficiency scores near the top.
·         SAT scores going up while increasing the number of students taking the test.
·         SAT scores far exceeding state average.
·         Graduation rate among the highest in the state for all groups.
·         Competitive teacher salaries. A pay schedule generally in the top five in any category.
·         Moving forward to bid a new facility to replace Northern High School.

Where we need to be:
·         We have not been able to fully support our pay schedule in recent years so we are losing our ability to compete for the best staff. Some teachers are behind $8,500. We need to fix that.
·         We plan to move forward to be Future Ready - putting a digital device in the hands of every student and expanding Wi-Fi access in the county so students have access to curriculum 24/7.
·         We need to improve school security with installation of security cameras in every school.

Where we need to be will be achieved by two things:
1.       Effective planning, training and execution by our staff.
2.       More money from the Board of County Commissioners.

I think we can do both.