Friday, December 12, 2014

A Nice Present - but not a Gift

This recent report from a company called Niche, which ranks schools based upon all publicly available data was nice.  If you missed it, it ranked Calvert County Public Schools 4th in Maryland.   Graduation rates, test scores, community attitudes, culture – all were apparently a part of the equation.

The Calvert Recorder noted in an editorial on December 5 that “It’s no surprise to see Calvert listed near the top in this ranking. “

There are other independent organizations that rank schools as well.  Go to a website called Great Schools and you’ll see that they give Calvert County Public Schools a score of 9 out of 10.  Although they don’t do a ranking of all school districts in Maryland from top to bottom, you can click on each county and find no others with that high of a rating.

In last year’s report on high schools from U.S. News and World Reports, two of Calvert’s high schools were in the top 20 of 244 high schools in Maryland.

It is nice to get presents such as these great stories, but they are not gifts.  They are well earned.

We have a lot of hard working people – especially principals and teachers who help make our students everything they can be.   Our support staff is second to none.  We have a very supportive county government which consistently funds our schools above the maintenance of effort level, even in tough economic times.  We have a forward thinking Board of Education which effectively tackles new issues with efficient policies and practices and which gives the leadership team the authority to make the decisions they need to keep us ahead of the latest state and federal mandates.

Finally, there is one gift that we all get.  The gift of the children of this community - All-American children who are curious and enthusiastic and funny and ornery and eager and friendly.  They want to change the world.  They want to travel the world.  They want to own the world and they will someday.  You can’t have a conversation with any of our kids without walking away thinking, “we’re going to be alright.”

On behalf of the Calvert County Public Schools employees I want to thank the parents of this community for sending us your children.   They are the raw product from which we grow the next generation of citizens.  They are the gift that will keep on giving.

Happy Holidays

Friday, November 14, 2014


We’ve got strings right here in Calvert County Public Schools.

I had the pleasure this week of attending the All-County Orchestra concert this week at the new Calvert County High School Auditorium.  What a beautiful facility and what beautiful sounds those children made.

I’m really excited about the strings program because, you see, I’ve never ever had a strings program in my schools before.   Ever.

Most school districts begin band instruction in 4th or 5th grade.  Standard band instruments – flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet, drums.   If they stick with it in high school they generally get some additional options – jazz band, concert band, marching band.  I’ve had some schools get special grants to borrow and teach steel drum bands.  That can be fun.

But violin, viola, cello, bass, it seems like those instruments make sounds that get into your heart - sounds that give you goose bumps – tunes that put a tear in your eye.

In Calvert County Public Schools every child has the opportunity to hold and stroke and strangle and mangle some sound out of a violin.  We let them begin between 4th and 6th grades.  We loan them an instrument if they don’t have the means to lease or buy one.  What a gift to have the opportunity to see if you like the fiddle without buying one.  

So, students at each school get the opportunity from 4th grade to graduation to play a stringed instrument, to appreciate how they blend together, to develop an ear for harmony and musical nuance that can’t be provided in any other environment.   We have to acknowledge that this is all part of group instruction during the school day with no opportunity for private lessons if one shows a special talent.  Private lessons may be hard to find.

Bottom line, I loved hearing the orchestras.  There was a middle school group and then a high school group.  I assume they were the first string.  I assume they were good and didn’t have to pull any strings to get selected.  Really, I don’t mean to string you along.

They made beautiful music.  Pulled on my heart strings. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What ever happened to the Golden Rule?

Luke 6:31 - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Confucius – “Do not do to others that which we do not want them to do to us.”

Ancient Hindu teaching – “Do not do unto others which would cause pain if done to you.”

Philosophers call it the ethic of reciprocity.

As I started to prepare some notes for our upcoming bullying prevention summit, I couldn’t help but recall the simple teachings of what most of us learned as the "Golden Rule”.  Cultures around the world have used these words or similar words to teach others the concept of empathy.

Of course, those ancient cultures and many modern ones as well, didn’t necessarily think that they should apply the rule to their enemies or their slaves.  So, for many it is a selective empathy.  Still, I think the Golden Rule, in the many ways it can be expressed, has to be a foundational belief for preventing bullies.

You may find this hard to believe, but from where I sit, I have to mediate more adult bullies and adult accusations of bullies than those of children. You would think that educated people in a government culture would be nicer to each other.  You would think that these people would also have the skills to mediate their own conflicts.

These conflicts seem to come from 2 primary sources. 

  1. A colleague says something perceived to be rude, mean or hateful.
  2. A supervisor says something perceived to be rude, mean or critical.

For number one, my general response has to be, “Come on people.  So you really need me to be Dr. Phil and get you both in chairs in my office and to ask you what he said and ask you to tell him how that made you feel.”  Golden rule people!  There is a chance that that person who stepped on your pride may not even know he did so.  Why don’t you tell him that his words hurt you, rather than tell me?  Model for the children how adults resolve their differences.

For number two, most times I would respond the same as number one.  But, there is also this condition that causes many people to be hyper-sensitive to constructive criticism and direction.  I have found supervisors, who have communicated very explicit, direct expectations without anger or threat.  They even say please and thank you, yet they are referred to as bullies.  There is a big difference in being a bully and being bossy.  We employ a number of bosses and they may on occasion need to be bossy.  I’m OK with that.  Sometimes, calling a committee and asking them what they think and how they feel is not appropriate. 

So let’s not forget the value of the Golden Rule.  Treat others like you want to be treated.  It’s as simple as that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Budget Basics / Budget Cuts Needed

Although the school year has just begun, some of us in the district office are beginning to build a budget for next school year.   The process takes months with numerous opportunities for input from stake holders.

Here are some basics regarding the Calvert County Public Schools budget for this school year.

Total Unrestricted funds:             $200,000,000

58% of this total comes from the county and 40% comes from state.  The other 2% is local with a small amount of federal dollars included.

Unrestricted funds means money that is flexible to use as we need it.  We receive other funds from some grants and federal dollars that are restricted to certain purposes so we don’t include that money when planning for general expenditures.    

Our present budget was built using $2.6 million dollars from our reserves (savings account).  That is, we are and have been for a few years, spending more than we take in.  That’s called deficit spending.

On a daily basis I hear from folks in this community who want us to spend more money.

·         Teachers would like a raise

·         Support staff would like a raise

·         Bus drivers would like a raise

·         Class sizes too large – hire more teachers

·         Etc.

I would like to be able to do some of those things, but first I believe we must live within our means.  So, if next year we are to build a budget without taking from our reserves (if we have any left) we must cut our spending by $2.6 million.   I would also like to have at least $3 million to provide raises to our employees.  Assuming there will be no additional money coming our way, we must therefore plan to cut $5.6 million from our current spending plan for next year.

Of each dollar in our budget, almost 85 cents is spent on salary and fixed charges (SS, insurance, Medicaid, retirement, etc).  It is impossible to make any significant reductions in our budget without reducing the number of employees.

Not an easy task, reducing employees to reduce costs and provide pay raises for those who are left.  I’m open to suggestions. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Impressions

So, I started this job on July 1 which means I’ve had a good 3 months to visit around and meet with people and listen to their thoughts on Calvert County Public Schools.  I’d like to share with you some of my first impressions in no particular order.

·         This is a nice place to live and raise a family.  It has a rural feel, yet is close to major metropolitan areas.  I like that I don’t have to go far to see the Chesapeake Bay. 

·         There are an amazing number of people who tell me they moved here specifically for the schools -  like the young lady who cut my hair in Lusby when I was just scouting this place out and most recently like the deputy sheriff who stopped me for going too fast on Rt.260.  Yes, they got me. 8-)>

·         Student achievement is very high.  When the MSA results were released this summer, Calvert County Public Schools were on top in most every category.

·         We have a lot of good principals who use that leadership role to keep students in school and to help teachers get the resources they need to do the best job possible.

·         We have a lot of caring teachers who were sincerely conflicted when the union suggested they should make a statement about teacher compensation by skipping out on open houses.

·         Our school buildings, though many have some age on them, are well maintained.   Our maintenance and building services workers take great pride in their work and it shows.

·         I think the county could make a lot of money if it charged politicians a fee for every sign they put up.  I have never seen so many signs up so early for a November election.

·         We have a lot of work (really hard work and difficult decisions) ahead of us, if we are going to get our financial house in order.  Health care costs sky rocketed last year.  Employees would like a raise, but this year’s budget required a significant infusion from our fund balance (at home you would call this your savings account).

I’m really enjoying the role of superintendent in Calvert County Public Schools.  In many ways, though my children are grown, I moved here for the quality of the schools as well.  I love a good challenge and there is no greater one than making the best better.  I have found the school board and staff members and community leaders to be open to moving in that direction.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Blog from the Superintendent

What you'll find here are occasional musings on educational issues. I may respond to a question from staff, students or community members. I may respond to comments left on the blog by a reader. I may write about a hot button issue in the community. Or, I may simply tell a story from my experiences.

For instance, as Director of Instruction, communications was one of my many responsibilities in rural Pocahontas County, West Virginia in the mid-80s. This was challenging. The County had a total of 9000 residents in 1000 square miles. There was one tiny weekly newspaper. TV news came over the mountain from Roanoke, Virginia. We had no local radio until a group of enterprising folks got together and wrote some grants to fund a "public radio".

They built the radio station on land next to our high school. There was one paid staff member and the rest of the work was done by volunteers. A friend of mine, the County Agriculture Extension Agent, did a couple of hours on Wednesday morning as a volunteer DJ. With his assistance, I did a weekly call-in live radio show on education issues. I'd start a topic, he'd ask a few questions, then we'd open up the phone lines which could be quite risky.

One day I mentioned that the athletic boosters were looking for donations to help with the development of a new baseball field. One lady called and requested the DJ play a special song. She is live - on the air. He advised her that he'd play her song if she'd pledge some money to the new ball field. She responded that the chickens had been laying really good of late and she had extra eggs to sell, so sure, she'd give the extra money to the baseball team.

Pioneering live call-in radio in the 80s has now been replaced with blogs.

On a blog, people can read what's been posted any hour of the day or night. On a blog, they can comment at any time as well. On a blog, they can say what they want and remain anonymous.

It is for that reason that I'm going to reserve the right to review comments before I allow them to be seen by all. I assure you that I won't be editing the critics. I'll just be watching for inappropriate language and personal attacks on employees. Those won't see the light of day.

Otherwise, we'll see what happens. Let's get the blog thing started!