Friday, May 26, 2017

It's Been an Outstanding Year


We’re winding down the year here in Calvert County.  ‘Tis the season for end-of-year concerts and recognition assemblies.  At yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Education, we recognized our school volunteers, our employees of the month and a new local club for kids - Creative and Striving Hard to Succeed (C.A.S.H.) National Society of Black Engineers. 
Today I managed to stop in on a couple of elementary field days (one where I personally removed a snake from the field), a middle school summit for 8th grade girls and a planning retreat for our Department of Instruction.  Lots of good stuff.
Our seniors are all gone and we’ll celebrate them through four graduation ceremonies on June 7 and 8.
As I reflect back on School Year 16-17, I can think of so many things to celebrate.  First, we celebrate the accomplishments of our students.
  • Calvert County PARCC scores in 10th and 11th grade English Language Arts were the best in the state of MD.  The best as in “WE ARE NUMBER 1!”
  • We have a graduation rate of 95%.
  • SAT scores went up.
  • Numerous individuals and student academic, fine arts and athletic teams won 1st in Maryland.
Of course, we give our outstanding staff credit for the above as well, but the Calvert County employees shined in other ways.
  • Teacher of the Year Donna Miller was a state finalist.
  • Sunderland Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School.
  • We successfully negotiated 4-year contracts with our teachers’ union and support staff union. 
  • We successfully negotiated a 2-year contract with our administrators’ union.
  • Our Supervisor of Equity initiated a new priority.
  • We negotiated a new funding formula with our Board of County Commissioners that will assure increasing revenues for the next 4 years.
And then there are some things that are attributable to our district staff and the Board of Education and the even the weather.
  • We had just one snow day and we made it up in February.
  • We broke ground for the new Northern High School.
  • We initiated an outside review of special education and transportation and we anticipate reports that will help us be more effective and efficient in those areas.
  • We initiated a strategic planning process which, when complete this summer, will set the stage for all future planning.
  • We have approved a budget that will give all of our employees a step increase and assures another step for most. 
And, thanks to all, our maintenance department announced that we have reduced its overall consumption of electricity by 17.14% since 2008 by installing energy-efficient equipment and encouraging people to change behaviors to conserve energy.
Yes, it’s been a good year.  I feel very lucky to be a part of such a good district.
















     


    Monday, March 20, 2017

    No More Public Speaking Class


    About a month ago, I got this email from a student whose name was not familiar to me:

    Hello Dr. Curry.  This is one of the students here at Calvert Middle School. I would like to request you to come to my speech. It’s one of our class projects that we are doing in school and I would like to invite you personally. It will be in about two weeks here in the class and I have been working really hard because I think this should be heard.  Sam

    In my work, I am always intrigued by that student who reaches out and contacts me on his own and tells me that what they are working on is important to see.  I didn’t hesitate to make a commitment.

    As it turned out, I wasn’t able to see Sam’s speech when he did it in class, but I did arrange for him to present it with accompanying slides for his principal and me in the principal’s office last week.  His presentation was titled “Standardized Tests – Useful or Useless.”   He did a great job making the argument that too much time was spent on testing with too little benefit.  He was articulate, did his research, cited appropriate sources and made a compelling argument.  When he was done, he answered questions on the topic from the principal and me with confidence and maturity. 

    Although he was only in 8th grade, I immediately recruited him to be a future teacher for us – promising him employment upon college graduation.

    Fifty years ago, when I was starting high school, there was one class at my high school that was required of all who were planning on college – speech class in the junior year.  It was a full-credit year-long class focused on public speaking in a variety of settings.  How to think on your feet.  How to debate.  How to take a position and defend it from your research.  It also included poetry, reader’s theater and scenes from plays.

    Sam prepared this presentation for his English class.  We don’t have such things as a separate class for speech or communications these days for those who are college bound.  We do, however, have standards for English Class which call for the student to:

    • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
    • Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
    • Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

    I liked speech class so much that I took Speech II my senior year.   And eventually minored in Speech and Drama in College.  Years later I returned to my college campus for the retirement of the head of the Speech Department and she asked me if I was ever able to use what I learned in college.


    "Only every day," I told her.  See the above bullets.  If that’s not a big part of the job description for school superintendent, I don’t know what is.  That’s why I asked Sam to consider being a teacher, then principal, then superintendent.

    Friday, January 20, 2017

    Strategic Planning Zzzzzzzz


    Sounds boring.  Sounds like a really thick book that sits on the shelf.

    Truth is, we don’t have one.

    Truth is, I think we need one.  Not a big book that sits on the shelf, but a real well designed, goal oriented, data driven plan that guides all of our decisions.

    Don’t get me wrong, we are doing quite well in Calvert County Public Schools.  Student achievement is great – our high school PARCC English Language Arts scores are the best in the state.  But, like any organization, there are still many areas in which we can improve. 

    • The needs of a diverse student body are growing.
    • Accountability measures are tightening.
    • Limited resources are seeing ever-increasing competition.
    • All students are not achieving at a high level.

     So, there is much yet to do.

    This time of year we are working on the budget for next year.  Each school submits its requests for money.  Sometimes they ask for more than usual for a new project.  Each department submits its request for next year’s funding and sometimes proposes a new initiatives – new textbooks, new staff, new equipment, new training, etc.  Are the new projects and initiatives aligned with the districts goals?  Are they in response to some new state or federal mandate?  Are we making sure each new expenditure is tied to our big picture plan? How will we measure its impact?  We have many choices.  Decisions need to be made from among almost limitless options.

    Richard Winwood said, “Planning is a process of choosing among those many options. If we do not choose to plan, then we choose to have others plan for us.”

    So, over the next 6 months, we will embark on a journey, guided by a firm called District Management Council, of developing a Strategic Plan. 

    This experienced consulting firm will assist us in analyzing our data.  They will conduct stake holder interviews.  Through a district steering committee they will help us define our goals, develop priorities, determine what success looks like, develop action plans, get stake holder feedback on the work of the steering committee and draft a detailed action plan.

    When all is said and done, it is our dream to have a plan that we can all point to with pride.  It will define student success for Calvert County Public Schools.  It won’t be in response to someone else’s needs.  It will be all Calvert County – a special, one-of-a-kind, no place like home school district.  

    We will refer to it frequently.  We will report on and discuss our progress regularly and we will make modifications as the environment changes.  Such a plan will assure Calvert County Public Schools will always be one of the best school districts in this United States of America. 

    Friday, December 9, 2016

    One More Calendar Blog


    Starting School After Labor Day 2017

    At its December 8 meeting the Calvert County Board of Education agreed to send out a revised school calendar for review and public input.   Although a calendar for 2017-18 school year had already been approved last spring, the Executive Order from Governor Hogan requiring that school begin for students no earlier than the Tuesday after Labor Day required us to reconvene the calendar committee.

    This calendar will draw a lot of comments I am sure.  You can see it here:  http://bit.ly/2h6DzcM

    Our previously approved calendar had five days for students prior to Labor Day weekend so we are tasked with scheduling 5 more days for students after Labor Day.  Our previously approved calendar also ended on June 7.  Though it would appear we could easily add those 5 days to the end of the year to be in compliance, I directed the committee not to do that.   More days in June have little instructional value and no potential for improving student performance results – graduation is over, AP exams are over and PARCC test is over.  We need to get those days in before May.

    The recommended calendar has an impact on some traditional non-student days that will no doubt raise eyebrows.

    1st - Youth Day for the County Fair, traditionally a day off for students, is proposed to be a day of school for students with a 2 hour early dismissal.

    2nd – What had been previously 6 days off for spring break has now been cut to 3 days  - Thursday, Friday and Monday around Easter weekend. 

    If you look at our options, there aren’t many.  The recommended calendar still proposes no school for students on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  We have heard from some who want to keep Youth Day that we should have school on that day in November instead. 

    For those who want a full week for spring break, it would appear that extending school into June would be our only option if we were to make that happen.

    The board is accepting comments on this proposed calendar for the next few weeks and will be asked to approve this or modifications to it on January 12.  Every comment is considered.   Send your calendar comments via email to Karen Maxey  maxeyk@calvertcounty.education

    Monday, November 14, 2016

    Starting School After Labor Day


    Governor Hogan has issued an executive order that all public schools cannot begin the year for students until after Labor Day starting with next school year (2017-18 also known as FY18).  Calvert County Public Schools had already approved the school calendar for that year last spring, so we have reassembled the committee to make recommendations as to how we might build a new calendar that complies.

    The FY18 calendar as approved earlier had five days of school prior to Labor Day so we must find 5 more instructional days for students.  Lengthening the year, deeper into June makes no sense because all of our big assessments take place in May.  So the committee must look at other options – teacher training days, traditional local days like Youth Day for the County Fair and lengthy holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break. 

    Talking about school calendar always leads to an interesting and varied discussion about priorities. 

    Our school calendar is still a reflection of the agrarian society that existed 100 years ago.  Many families raised a lot of their own food and relied on the labor of the children to get the job done.  Now, many families rely on a school-less summer as a time for vacation, a time to develop a specialty athletic skill or just as a time for children to get a break from school.  Still, we recognize that for many working families, there is no vacation to the beach, no science camp, no sports camp.  For many, the added expense for child care takes all the discretionary funds from the family budget that may have paid for such things.

    That loooong, often 10 week summer vacation, is not really good for children and learning.   Believe it or not, some don’t pick up a book all summer. 

    If we really wanted to build the best calendar for student learning, we wouldn’t be advocating for longer summers and longer Christmas breaks and longer Spring breaks.  Instead, we would maximize student opportunity for success.  Most of us believe that all children can learn, but some need more time than others, so our first caveat of a calendar could be that students who demonstrate mastery of the material can go home until the next class starts.    Not every child can learn everything they need to know in exactly 180 days.  Some may do it in 150 and others may need 210. 

    When you think about it, you know that there are tons of things we do at school to manage each individual child’s unique learning needs - large group, small group, individual instruction.  But, we insist that all 15,500 students start and end school each year on the exact same day.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could be that flexible and keep the school doors open year round until the last child is successful?     Those who finish early could choose to be on vacation or choose an enrichment course or perhaps choose to jump right in to another challenging course. 

    Year round school would improve our chances to get every child career and college ready.

    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.