Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Barriers ...

I loved this...I needed it today. Hope you enjoy this as well. So long as we are always willing to listen & talk, there are endless possibilities!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Armed Guards?

Today is a first for me as a school administrator. Today, a well intended - and obviously concerned parent took the time to hand write a letter requesting that I do more to ensure her children's safety within my schools. Her plea was that we employee an armed guard (or guards) at every school location and that they search everyone entering the building to make sure the children are safe.

As a parent and educator considering the horror in Newton, CT and elsewhere I can lose myself in that idea. I allow myself to dwell there in that thought - imagining a new world where schools become fortresses protected by trained law enforcement personnel...but while I am dwelling there in thought, I can't stop with armed guards at the front entrance because I imagine all of the other areas of vulnerability. Such as, we must replace glass windows in each classroom with fortified bullet-proof glass so that someone can't open fire on a classroom mind continues to imagine that while even the bullet proof glass isn't adequate, I start to think about lunch recess or simply classroom teachers who decide their children need some fresh air and exercise - what about them? If I am going to allow children that basic necessity  I will need additional trained officers - like a SWAT Team - to escort the children from the school building to the playground...while I continue dwelling in this dark thought I now turn to the next imaginable vulnerable point - dismissal and arrival - how can we protect every child in their parent's care - after all they drive them to school without the protection of armed guards - some even stopping at the local Wawa to buy a last minute snack because the night before was too hectic with soccer practice and homework - who will protect the children (and parent for that matter) exposed in the open air between their car and the convenience store? For those children who must ride a bus to school, like my own, the current busses are not acceptable - we need to outfit them with bullet resistant steal and windows - we should probably put an armed guard on the bus as well and at the bus stops too... see if I allow myself to dwell in this darkness there will never be light. Once we start trying to protect against the evil that was present in Newton we might as well bunker down and never again live our lives.

Instead, I chose to stand as exposed as all of you - with my children as exposed - and simply say that living life is too joyous to surrender it to evil. And while I completely understand this parent's dispair, an armed guard at an elementary school is not the answer (in my humble opinion) as it isn't enough. I imagine an armed guard would have done his/her best to stop the killer but would have likely been in the wrong part of the building attending to some concern or worse yet - would have been among the first of the heroic victims. It is my opinion that while we must prepare and hold our drills in case the worst of humankind is present at one of our schools (malls, movie theaters, convenience stores, homes) we can never be 100% secure without being 100% isolated.

Monday, December 10, 2012

One Gate-Keeper's Story


Opening the Gate to Leadership 2.0: One Gate-Keeper's Story
Presenter: David Gentile, Ed. D., Chief Education Officer for Millville Public Schools in NJ

The Link above will take you to my recent experience with the team. I was asked to present a webinar and share my story as a leader relative to Leadership 2.0. I enjoyed the experience and hope you will to.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Hate School But Love Education

(source Huffington Post)
English rapper-poet Suli Breaks is out with a video that's taking the Internet by storm, and young people are loving it. I would guess, however, that many educators are hating it. Or rather, fearing it. Fearing it because a part of us relate to the reality of pieces of his poem. For the best educators, this will not upset them, but rather serve as a question mark along the journey to realize how to make our schools better. For me, I identify with much of what Suli says, for example, when he says that educators start with a checklist when they create their lesson plan - and assessments, anything outside that checklist is marked with an 'x'. This is true, we start with the common core standards and push our students to meet those standards - perhaps we are missing out on some amazing discoveries which are found in the 'wrong answers'. I feel it is at least worth considering.
I also connect with the young poet's passion for urging the world's youth to "understand your motives and reassess your aims." Students must connect to their learning - why are they pursuing an education? If it is simply to make your teachers proud or parents happy you will likely find the experience to be somewhat empty. If, however, you identify your strengths and learning goals regardless of the lesson you will be able to find meaning in it. 
Suli urges us, "Let's look at the statistics," pointing to moguls worth billions of dollars as examples of those who succeeded without graduating from an institution of higher learning: the late Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Jackson. (We won't harp too much on the fact that he misspells both Zuckerberg and Jackson's names.) Does Suli have a point? Perhaps -- school might not be for everyone, but an education is crucial, and students should assess whether they're really in school to learn. 
The "statistics" he points to in fact show, time and time again, that degree-holders have more opportunities and earn more than non-degree holders over a lifetime. The top dogs he cites as examples are exceptions to the rule, and have generally had some level of formal schooling.
While both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are Harvard University dropouts, their companies are products of their time spent in school. And Oprah Winfrey, as a matter of fact, graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in speech and drama. Jobs, it's also important to note, credited his school teachers for his success.
"Redefine how you view education, understand its true meaning," Suli Breaks says. "Education is not just about regurgitating facts from a book on someone else's opinion on a subject to pass an exam. Look at it. Picasso was educated in creating art. Shakespeare was educated in the art of all that was written. Colonel Harland Sanders was educated in the art of creating Kentucky fried chicken."
While he's right that education does not equate to rote memorization, the examples given are all of specialists in a field -- and all come from a time when industries and individual careers were more stable.
Nowadays, a handful of sectors struggle to fill more than 3 million open positions, according to CBS News. Despite the more than 20 million people who are unemployed in the United States, companies can't find workers to fill positions in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and manufacturing, due to a lack of skilled workers.
And without general schooling across practices, moving from one field to another can be difficult. Jamie Pacheco was a commercial painter until the downturn in construction forced him out of a job. For Pacheco to get a job in another field he needed more official schooling, CBS News reports.
We must give our students an opportunity both to learn and to be prepared for the workforce.
Emmeline Zhol, from the Huffington Post, writes that Suli Breaks is indisputably correct when he says, "There's more than one way in this world to be an educated man." But there are alternatives to stepping away from proper schooling because it's too rigid or too expensive, as he suggests.
The question is not whether education is "still worth" the cost, but how to reform education (via campus culture, course curriculum, learning standards, etc.) so that it is still worth it on a practical level -- and how to make formal education more affordable and accessible to all.
Over the years, American students have fallen behind foreign peers on performance in core subjects, and are failing to catch up. Young adults who excel academically and intellectually come from countries where education is deeply embedded in society and culture. For those countries, schooling and education is a given, an "underlying moral purpose" that would never be questioned. While we foster that very inquisition in America by cultivating a backwards debate, instead of creating our own culture of education, our foreign competitors are gaining the global advantage.
Studies have shown that students say they don't learn anything in the first two years of college -- pointing to a broader concern within U.S. higher education that universities are being run more like corporations than educational institutions. When students treat college as a stepping stone to a job, colleges treat them as consumers who attend for a degree and then move on.
The numbers speak for themselves: 34 percent of young Americans don't believe that education matters for their future, and 40 percent of those "too cool" for school are unemployed, while another 33 percent are in "interim" positions, according to a recent report by McKinsey, a consulting firm.
Of American young adults with bachelor's degrees, 7 percent were unemployed in October, compared with 20 percent of high school graduates with no college experience, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One Tumblr user, identified on his blog as 19-year-old Michael Gallagher, has written a lengthy but insightful response to Suli Breaks's video. The McMaster University student writes:
I have always believed that the best people will rise to the top regardless of what stands in their way. What I mean by this is just because certain people were successful without university does in my mind not prove any point. All it proves is the extraordinary amounts of talent, luck, and hard work these people possess.
It's unfortunate because most people aren't special. They aren't going to be the next billionaire, and yet somehow I don't see that as a bad thing.
But why not tell people not to avoid "wasting money" on an education but focusing on the real issue at hand? The whole problem with this video is that it works under the assumption that people know what they want to do with their lives and are instead wasting money in College/University. Isn't it possible that some people go to College or University because it is a safe way to not only increase their employability but to find themselves?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 2 Team-teaching experience

My second day included a visit from the local reporter and his photographer. They learned of my experience joining Mrs. Cotton's class and thought it would be an interesting story. What was remarkable to me was that the students did not pay any attention to the strangers in the room and were instead consumed with the material. We were having a literary discussion about the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The students - each and every single one of them - love this book. The depth of their story analysis was impressive.

During this class period, I felt as though the students accepted me as part of their community. I did my best to interject and participate in this literary analysis but truthfully, Mrs. Cotton is awesome and it is probably best if I just assist her. It is evident to me that she has a well thought out plan in her mind which includes all of the various details she knows AP English students need to master before the semester's end. After the round robin review of Chapter 23 of the Kite Runner we transitioned into Othello. There is a stark contrast between the two and this is not lost on the students. Many expressed their love for Hosseini's work and the style of Shakespeare is challenging in comparison. Despite their initial grumblings, once they are engaged in Othello, the same level of enthusiasm and insight surfaces immediately. The students dissected the various characters and identified that Shakespeare's Othello is a bit volger. I watched as they handled mature story elements with ease - they did not get lost in uncomfortableness but rather identified why Shakespeare would chose to shock his audience that way.

This group of students (and Mrs. Cotton) are truly impressive. I am glad to be along for the ride. I am diligently preparing for the next book we will discuss, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. I will lead some of the chapter discussions (and take a more active teaching role) - and as I watch how Mrs. Cotton handles Kite Runner I know I have my work cut out for me. Therefore, I am preparing so that I don't disappoint the students (or worse yet, not meet Mrs. Cotton's expectations).

Stay tuned ...

For the story in the local newspaper see the link below
Daily Journal

Monday, December 3, 2012

Othello, Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Imagine your superintendent arrives in your classroom one random day and asks, "Would you be interested in team-teaching a unit with me?". How do you think you would respond? This exact scenario took place when I asked our recent teacher of the year recipient, Mrs. Tara Cotton, that exact question. Without hesitation, she said "yes". I was thrilled that she was so willing but feared perhaps because I am the superintendent she felt she could not say no. I went on to explain my motives and assured her that my visit is strictly so that I can accomplish three things:

1. Selfishly, I flat out miss the classroom
2. I was anxious to learn from her, after all she is exceptional
3. I wanted to see my district through the students' eyes; I wanted to experience what the students experience

Friday, this experience began. We have set aside several dates in December where I will team up with Mrs. Cotton during her AP English 2nd Block. I would like to share my experience and hopefully get the students to share as well on my blog.

My initial thoughts following today's first class are as follows:
1. This group of students are truly impressive
2. I left the experience energized, teaching is the greatest career in the world.
3. I am definitely a little rusty; although I have observed hundreds of lessons over the years I was reminded today just how much effort goes into preparing an exceptional learning experience. Kudos to Mrs. Cotton, her plans for this Unit are awesome - she incorporates technology & media, forces the students to think critically, and her students are challenged by the level of rigor. After today's block ended, Mrs. Cotton shared with me that this was the first time she taught this particular unit on Othello! Can you imagine the feelings of trying out a new unit of study with your superintendent as your teaching partner? I can see why she was our district teacher of the year.

I will keep you posted...