Friday, September 6, 2013

Cultivating Dreams Together

Cultivating Dreams Together

First, welcome everyone! And I do mean everyone!!
1. Custodial, grounds, and maintenance staff
2. Secretarial and administrative assistants
3. Administration
4. Instructional staff, assistants, security guards, cafeteria staff...
5. Board Members, civic leaders...

Give yourselves a round of applause! I believe strongly that this symbolic gathering is a great new tradition. Starting the School Year off together – with everyone – serves as an important reminder that we are in the business of Dream Cultivation together. Every single one of you plays a role in our children’s lives. A smile here, a high five there, regardless of whether you are a classroom teacher or the building custodian – you have an impact on the lives of our kids! Your personal attitude contributes to the climate of our District. Whether your contribution is positive or negative is entirely up to you.

Why did I want each and every single one of you here again this morning? Its quite simple- MPS is on a journey, our journey is to be the very best school district we can be. You have heard our Vision, which is to create a world-class school district involving all stakeholders where every child can learn. Well, we can’t accomplish that with involving all stakeholders- and that is you. Whatever your role, you are of critical importance to our being world-class or not. If you are not successful, we are not going to be successful. When you come into contact with our customers, our students and/or parents, or they visit one of our facilities they leave with an impression. That impression shapes their belief as to what kind of school district we are. You are here, because you are too important to leave out. You will never be left out again! I get questioned, “you really want me there?” to which I answer “yes, I really want you there”. For a few hours, we are all putting the important work aside, stopping the paper work, stopping every function of the District – to come together here, to remind ourselves that we only are employed because of the students that depend on us. From the Accounting and business offices to registration and transportation, to curriculum and instruction, to special services, to maintenance and custodial, to security and cafeteria workers, child study team members and to anyone I neglected to mention – we are all here for kids. And we can’t ever forget it.

As we begin a New School Year, I want each of you to continue to search within yourself to define “what does world class performance look like for me? Am I truly a world class employee?” I want you take responsibility for what you do and anywhere you feel you may fall short, think of it as “an opportunity for excellence” I know I can’t do this alone, frankly, there is nothing special about me (except in the eyes of my family) – but together with all of you – I have faith…we will become world class.

This year, we are asked to implement a Common Core, our students our assessed by the State mandated assessments. In the eyes of too many, our students’ value, as well as ours, is yet again going to be measured by this one measuring stick. The machine continues to label school districts like ours as FAILURES, when we don’t quite measure up. They say, look at their school report card, they must have terrible teachers – administrators – others may say no it isn’t the staff it is those kids. It is my opinion that neither of those statements is correct. I believe that the value of a child cannot be measured simply in one nice neat week of testing. Furthermore, I don’t believe the full value of any educator can be summed up by the results of one week of standardized testing. I believe that someday the department of education and policy makers will catch up with my way of thinking…that our students are all gifted and talented…that a high stakes test is nothing more than one piece of a very complex puzzle…that all of our students’ dreams important…that a better measure of an educator is the number of tears shed by the students leaving their classroom for the last time before the summer break…and in the impact they have day in and day out on cultivating the dreams of their students. Someday, our system will realize that you can’t measure dream development in any easy multiple-choice test. Our system will change and reflect the world we currently live in…and value how well we cultivate dreams…how well we support students’ natural curiosity instead of telling them what they have to learn, when they have to learn it, and how they must show they’ve done so. While we wait for the world to catch up, there is nothing stopping us from action today. You and I know that our students value is so much more than a grade – or an assessment score…see, I believe if we focus on cultivating dreams, inspiring critical thinking, embrace technology as a tool, free our students to learn how to love curiosity and discovery, the standardized assessment scores will take care of themselves. The NJASK and HSPA are minimums in my opinion. Here is what we know about them – they measure how well the students can demonstrate proficiency on a narrow set of standards and skills. Ok, lets focus on them, plan our lessons with hyper-focus on them, make sure our students know them – but here is the fun part, you create how to have your students discover them. You create exciting and fun methods and ways to explore them. Encourage your students to be innovative. While we will master the Common Core, there will be nothing Common about us! We will be unique – uncommon – and different. Our students and teachers will prove the critics wrong…and while we will raise our standardized test scores (slow and steady) we will NOT be defined by our results. We will control our story, our journey and our destiny. We will be so much more than our school report card. Together, we will be world class.

This year, we will be asked to work harder, be even more accountable, implement the various mandates, but we and will not lose sight of our real mission – to cultivate the dreams and dreamers in our schools.

I am going to end with my favorite poem from WB Yeats “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Inwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Very soon, our students are going to come into your schools and lay their dreams beneath your feet – please tread softly!