Friday, January 20, 2012

Oh the weather outside is...

Is it wrong that I have been in education for 14 years and still get excited at the prospect of a snow day?

It used to be the prospect of sleeping in or going back to sleep. Teasing my wife that she still had to go into work. Possible dropping the kids off at daycare and getting a nice quiet day at home...

Of course, now, with the new position, the idea of a snow day takes on a whole new meaning. Phone calls at 3 am from our building foreman giving me updates on snow removal and salting, any leaks in the building, which of his guys called off. Then dealing with initiating phone trees and ensuring that everyone is notified. Then dealing with the people who did not provide their contact information and they send off a nasty gram email because they did not get called and showed up at school and found it was closed.

But now, the snow is happening at the end of the day and we have to deal with cancelling activities, clearing the building, notifying parents, making sure that all students leave safely and orderly. We have cancelled the basketball games, getting everyone out and I get to pick up my kids and take what should be a quick 30 minute trip home and make it into an hour and a half.

I guess what goes around comes safe and warm!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Getting settled in

Change is a challenge...that must be why they share so many letters.

I am starting to feeling like I am getting my sea legs in my new office, position, and school. Our IT guys got me a desktop computer. The phone jack for my desk is now operational. I am starting to learn people's names and quirks, as they are me. All in all, not so bad for week number 2 after starting in semester 2.

The "funny" thing is that I just went through the computer set up about 4 weeks ago in my old office. I was using a machine with what could not have been more than a Pentium 2 processor and after enough begging and pleading, I was given a new machine....after my assistant principal got one...and she didn't ask! But, all that is bygones. I spent the after noon at my old office getting all of the programs reinstalled on my computer, going back and forth with IT about my permissions, printer set-ups, scanners, downloads, etc. Finally got the computer running the way I like it and then I was given the new position at a new school. GREAT OPPORTUNITY, no doubt about that. Since I am staying in the same district, I asked if I would be able to merely move my computer to my new building and office. Since I have spent the morning setting up my new, new computer, that answer was no.

Now, with the newly working phone jack, I no longer have to do a 12 yard dash every time my phone rings. In my old position my phone did not ring that much. Now, it rings constantly and 90 times out of 100, it is because the person on the other end is not happy with something I or someone else did. That is the job and that is part of the change and challenge.

Coming into the new school at the beginning of the 2nd semester is the biggest challenge. Sure my office now has boxes all over the place, papers strewn, half-completed projects from my predecessor that need immediate attention from all sorts of people, but that is part of the fun. The hard part is learning who all of those people are. I feel fortunate that there are some people that I know and know me. There are others who want to tell me how things get done and the way that "we have always done them". It is a tough balance between tradition and stagnation.

I am thinking that my reading in Bolman & Deal will come in handy as I navigate through the 4 frames to maximize the working structures that are in place, fully realize the potential in the human resources, CAREFULLY navigate the political waters, and honor the strong symbols of a good school. But like I said, I am just getting my sea legs. Let's hope that outcome is much better that that Italian cruise ship.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Standardized Testing...the new game show?

Today was a bit of a tough day. I had a good day at my new campus and spent the second half of the day cleaning out my office in my old campus. While I do not have computer in my new office yet, I do not get the chance to do my digital learning during the day. So, I came home today from my first week in my new position and had a chance to read contributions to my learning from my PLN. Vicki Davis shared this video on Google+:

 If you watch the video, the contestant admits that it is challenging to "do math sitting here [in the hot seat]". Having been on a televised game show myself, I can be sympathetic to the "hot seat" phenomenon. Having said that, it reminds me of the high pressure situation that we put our students in late April for our NCLB mandated test, the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

For those of you not familiar with the Illinois test, it is a two day test comprised of the ACT (day 1) and the Work Keys plus and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) developed Science assessment. The scores from these two days of testing are mysteriously calculated into cuts scores to determine if juniors in high school meet or exceed state standards. Amazingly, Illinois uses a test (the ACT) for NCLB that is DESIGNED to sort students and leave some behind. But I digress...we can discuss standardized assessment at a later date.

It seems that NCLB gives schools 1 chance to "hit it big", like on a game show. The trouble is that as schools have to play the game to get students ready make it through the test the mathematics for this question is reduced to a trivia fact. There is no thought about Pythagoras and the 3-4-5 triangle that could generate a great discussion about mathematics and numeracy. I hope that as the CCSS take effect and change mathematics teaching in the early grades, there will be deeper understanding of the mathematics and we can change the game show created by NCLB.

Will high school math classes change form Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2/Trig to Math 1, 2, 3 and 4 with thoroughly integrated topics? Will students come into high school with better understanding of the fundamentals of math to spur deeper understanding in high school? Will there be better assessments that come with PARC?

We will have to wait and see. Until then...BIG BUCKS, NO WHAMMIES!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Copiers -- Possibly the new bane of my existence

As I am getting to know the staff at my new building, it is fortunate that there are some people that I know. One of these people is very friendly. As I was in her office, I noticed a stack of final exams and textbook samples. Jokingly, I said to her that with my new position, I do not have to worry about those things anymore and my life got much simpler with my new job. As I was having a good laugh near her expense, she said “Bob, I have 1 word for you…copiers”. And that is when something hit the fan.
For anyone who has ever worked in a school, you know that the one thing that breaks the most is the photocopier. Machines purchased for the school are typically smaller than what is needed and cannot process the volume or sheer abuse that faculty can dish out. People will try to copy pictures that are mostly dark and wonder why the fuser will overheat from too much toner trying to be processed. Staples jam in the machine. Colored paper is in the wrong drawer and a sheet of green or pink will randomly be inserted into your test. Staff members will begin a copy job and when the machine jams, leave it for the next person. The list goes on and on…and right on to my desk.
We have two machines in the copy room (and a few others, but those are not for general consumption). One machine in the copy room is for anyone to use; the other is strictly for our copy person. We are fortunate to have part-time person in the copy room. Her job is to process copy jobs for the teaching staff. This is meant to increase efficient use of time by the teachers so they do not have to wait for copies. All a teacher has to do is drop off the master and then pick up the final product the next day. The part-time person also has access to her own machine so this will hopefully reduce the havoc wreaked on the machines. She has had training and can handle most minor hiccups that others would leave for “someone else” to fix.
This system is a well oiled machine that has been in place for a number of years…long before I arrived. At the start of the semester the principal received a few emails about “problems” in the copy room and asked me to look into it. I found the copy room, met the copy lady, asked some questions and found that the problem was with our network printers and that issue had been resolved (I can talk about that one at a later date). After I met who I needed to meet and saw what I needed to saw, I sent out a carefully crafted email thanking everyone for my warm welcome and explain how copies should continue to run.
Then the emails came to me, directly. I guess I was asking for it by describing policies and procedures. Teachers asked if the 2nd machine would have the lock removed to they could use it all day. Teachers grumbled that they like to make their copies their way and need to make sure it is done correctly. Teachers just wanted to moan that machines are ALWAYS broken. I listened and carefully responded. Then watched the replies to my reply come in and respond carefully again. Some people stopped by the office…not to say hi or welcome, but to discuss the copiers.
One question…can I go back to exams and textbooks?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A new beginning

I know, I know…every year I look at my blog and say this is the year that I will take it head on. History repeats itself again, but with a twist. I was just appointed to a new position as Associate Principal for Operations. I am excited about this opportunity but this is a far cry from my experiences in the teaching and learning side of education. I was trained as a classroom instructor. I taught for a number of years and then became the Instructional Leader, dealing with the oversight of curriculum, budget, staffing, etc. Now I am responsible for oversight on the master schedule, counselors, deans, and the rest of the PPS department. Additionally, I oversee maintenance, security, kitchen staff, and my favorite…other duties as assigned.

This new position has come in the middle of the year to assist another campus in my district who had an administrator leave to pursue an opportunity of a principal-ship. I was flattered and grateful for this opportunity that the new campus and the district administration felt that I am ready for, and I am…this will be a big learning curve and I am ready to learn.

In the following weeks (not months) our district will face a new bell schedule (due to a decrease is class periods because of a necessary $10 Million budget cut due to a charter school), Illinois Senate Bill 7 and its implications on staffing and retention of staff, losses in funding, changing enrollments, new course offerings, completely rebuilding the master schedule (due to the reasons above) and much more. I will have to handle all of this in addition to meeting a new staff, balancing my way of doing things with the ever dreaded “this is the way we get things done here”, evaluating PPS, operating the building, being the sounding board for my principal, supporting all staff, handling crisis management (1st day back to school), and of course…other duties as assigned.

In those immortal words…Let’s get ready to rumble! With all of the challenges come opportunities, so it is going to be a GREAT year!