Friday, October 19, 2018

What Do We Stand For?

What do We Stand for?  I was asked this question earlier in the week by a non educator wearing an I Love Nebraska Public Schools shirt. While I had an immediate response in mind related to my faith and family, I paused for a moment and reflected a bit as I considered my occupation. I am a superintendent, but more than my title, I identify myself as an educator.  I am a public educator and consider public education to be of critical importance.  It is something that I do as a “job,” but I have dedicated myself in this work because I believe public education is central to our society.

Yes, there are additional options beyond public education that have merit.  However, I am convicted in my belief that public education offers something different for students.  It opens access for all students to come, where all students are welcome and where all can experience the success of learning.  It is a place where students can learn to not only to read and write but also become critical thinkers, solve complex problems, obtain the 21st-century learning skills necessary to be productive citizens and develop the ability to be successful in a work environment that our generation has not yet envisioned.

Public education is not a perfect system; there are areas of great strength and areas that need continual improvement. Public educators create a learning environment for our students to maximize their learning potential and open access to future opportunities. It is what public educators do, what we provide, and the responsibility lies in our hands.  It is a large responsibility that cannot be dismissed. It isn’t something I take lightly, instead; I feel compelled to continually invest myself in public education and commit resources to create opportunities for our students.

I could continue to go on and write more about this, but I think the most concise and accurate response to the question of the day is I also stand for public education.  It is something I can support and advocate for as it makes a difference for our students.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October Board Brief

The Shenandoah CSD Board met Monday evening, October 8th, 2018, for their scheduled meeting. I was able to share information with the Board about a developing partnership with Viterbo University to provide Master's level coursework for educators in southwest Iowa. Viterbo University is considering Shenandoah CSD as a location to provide a blended program which would allow our teachers to take coursework onsite and online as early as this summer. Having this type of program available in Shenandoah is good for our District and the entire southwest Iowa region.

Sam Martin, Quentin Slater, and Kayla VanRite presented information about the Soybean Project the agriculture and FFA students have taken part in over the past several months that was facilitated by Sarah F. Martin. This is important learning that is allowing our students to expand their knowledge using their research skills and collaborate with other professionals in the field including Asgrow, Helena, and Twin Oaks Lawn & Landscape.  It was an impressive presentation.

The Transportation Department provides a vital service for our students each day.  It can be an expensive area to maintain. However, it is important to consider that the expense involved is directly related to keeping our students safe.  Mr. Weinrich, the Transportation Director, identified three major areas of need for the Board to consider and provided some background information for each. This included concerns about the analog radio system, replacing the suburbans on a rotation schedule and potentially making a bus purchase, and the need to invest in stop arm cameras for the buses.

Stop arm cameras take digital photos of cars that pass school buses that are stopped with the stop sign arm out and lights flashing. Failing to stop is a serious driving violation but as Mr. Weinrich shared it is a concern that is not limited to Shenandoah.  Taking the time to stop may seem inconvenient to some drivers. However, it is important that drivers understand the safety concern for our students and also recognize the penalties they may face for violating the law (fines, license suspension, and potential jail time).

Several items were on the consent agenda, including early graduation.  It was very nice to have Jeremy Faust, one of our High School seniors, in attendance at the meeting. He applied to graduate early, his request was approved at the meeting. He greeted the Board and shared he eventually wants to attend college to teach students how to use computers.

There were several action items that were approved that I have summarized below. The items included in the summary are seemingly a simple list, but each item required a fair amount of consideration, planning, team discussion, and preparation before it actually became an agenda item for the Board to consider. I appreciate the staff's effort to make sure appropriate information was available to consider so decisions could be made.

The Board took action to approve the final resolution to pass the Instructional Support Levy tonight.  This action will provide a strong funding source for the District to rely on for the next five years. Additionally, the Board approved a request for Supplemental State Aid to support the needs of English learners (limited English proficient) in the amount of $68,841.94. The District's Federal application for Title I Funds was also approved for submission.

Service agreements were signed with KAGAN for professional development services, Shenandoah Medical Center for athletic trainer services,  and Control Management Inc  The Board also approved the purchase of the Liebert Mini-mate 2e for the technology room at the Elementary and Middle School building.

There were several other routine items on the agenda that were approved such as the District's legal counsel, bank depositories, and the publication of record. Greg Ritchey was reappointed represent the District for the Page County Conference Board. The Education Record Access and Student Directory Information policies were also read and approved for the second time.  The revision of the  High School Course book was also approved.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Principals are an Essential Piece of the Puzzle

This week is the beginning of National Principal's month. It is a month set aside to give principals honor and recognition for the work they do. Your perspective of what it means to be a principal may be different based on experiences you have had as a student, parent, teacher, community person or even movies that you have watched.  Watching movies like Lean on Me, The Principal, or even Kindergarten Cop gives a very different view of the role of a principal that may not be necessarily complete or entirely accurate, but the characters paint a picture in your mind.  While Mr. Latimer in The Principal was fearless in his pursuit, I am not sure I know too many principals that have ridden their motorcycle down the corridor of a school.

All said principals have rather superhero status in my book as they have such broad responsibility to serve hundreds of students and parents, work with teachers and support staff, and communicate effectively with the community. They also keep records, complete state reporting, and finalize program and staff evaluations. Their days are tightly scheduled and they are required to meet several deadlines. They track their budgets, make purchases, and work with staff and community groups to find additional funding to fill in the gap. They manage the school and lead the staff in making sure that our schools provide the best possible learning environment for our students.  They serve as instructional leaders and coordinate with staff to provide high-quality professional development. They are engaged in their work early in the morning and typically leave later in the evening as they are wrapping up student activities.

I could also write a long list of the great things our teachers, coaches, and support staff do, but it is October which is National Principal's month, so I want to extend public appreciation for our principals. All of our staff is important; it takes all of us working together to make things come together each day to support our students and, a high-quality principal is an essential piece of the puzzle.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Teacher Leadership is Worth the Investment

The first year I was teaching I met Barb, a teacher who befriended me and supported me as I worked through the early stages of developing my craft as a teacher.  She was not my assigned formal mentor and was not paid anything extra for her efforts, but she was a generous soul who gave of her time because she cared about me as a person and wanted me to be successful as a teacher.  We taught in different schools, but I gained much from our regular chats.  I remember one conversation where she challenged me to shift my thinking about “going to work."  She boldly reminded me that I was privileged to go to school each day and while it was work and required effort, we were privileged to be educators, and it should be considered an honor to serve our students.  The only appropriate response to a conversation like this was to listen, acknowledge her wisdom, and say thank you.  Many years later, I still reflect on some of our conversations and consider her a person of great influence on my career. 

Today, schools approach onboarding, mentoring, and instructional coaching in a much more formal manner than when I first started teaching. And yes, that is a good thing.  My dear coworker taught me a lot for which I am grateful. However, I am envious of the opportunities that are afforded to teachers in the State of Iowa.  Iowa has invested heavily in the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) Model which provides funding for schools to focus on developing the capacity of teachers to assist in leading professional development, to serve as instructional coaches and mentors, and be compensated for doing so.  This initiative has been an expensive investment, but it is making an impact on student achievement across the state.  The Iowa Department of Education made a press release about the recent research on Iowa’s TLC model this week. The report suggests TLC is a promising practice to continue.

Shenandoah CSD receives State funding on an annual basis to implement the TLC grant. These funds are used to support the implementation of our Teacher Advancement Program referred to as TAP and has allowed the District to employ three instructional coaches that work alongside our teachers and administrators.  Teresa Hughes, Keisha McHargue and Nicole Grindle have served in this capacity full time as they are no longer teaching in the classroom. The coaches have worked closely with Mr. Munsinger and other administrators to help design and facilitate professional learning and also spend time working with teachers one on one and in small “cluster” groups helping staff to make strong instructional decisions using data.  Other teachers that have been identified as mentor teachers who also work with staff one on one and provide additional training.  The mentors are full-time classroom teachers who receive some release time to be able to do some of this work.  Maria Blake, Amy Bopp, Dana Finnegan, Traci Toms, Carleen Perry, Brett Roberts, Jenny Stephens, and Sarah F. Martin are currently identified as mentor teachers. Jon Weinrich was previously a mentor, but he is now serving as an administrator.  Serving as a mentor teacher helped him advance and transition into this administrative position.

The Instructional Coaches and Mentor Teachers have provided a valuable service for the District.  They have supported our staff in developing and refining teaching strategies that are known to be best practice and effective.  Their work is not just targeted at new professionals; they meet teachers where they are at in their careers to facilitate new learning and offer support as they work through the challenges that exist.

Marcia Johnson has coordinated a different mentoring program targeted to support first and second-year teachers in the District for many years.  This is not connected with the TLC program, but it also provides valuable support for new professionals.  We have several new teachers this year, so this has been good support for them as they learn how to navigate the system, Iowa’s teaching standards, and professional ethics.

I had a great conversation with Linnea Shook and Marcia Johnson about the professional relationship they have developed and the support Linnae felt as a first-year teacher while participating in this program. Having someone to talk with about academic and instructional practices is important, but they both also emphasized the role of the mentor is to provide social and emotional support as they transition into their new role. It is unfortunate the recording mechanism failed as the conversation we had was priceless. As I listened to them talk, I was reminded of the professional relationship and friendship that was formed between Barb and me.  Perhaps, someday, Linnea will find herself writing about her mentor Marcia. 

Marcia Johnson and Linnea Shook

The District is fortunate to have many teachers who are willing to serve in leadership roles and make a contribution. They are solid educators who have the skills necessary to help guide professional learning efforts and support their peers.  Our teacher leaders serve in different roles, but they are making a notable difference in our learning environment. Their leadership and mentorship are worth the investment as it reinforces and keeps teachers in the profession, allows for career advancement, and has demonstrated an impact on student achievement. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Take a Walk with Me

Each morning, when I go to work, I know one of the greatest joys I will have is the opportunity to interact with our students and work together with our staff to continually improve the learning environment for our students. Sometimes there are administrative tasks related to budgets, state reporting, meetings and such that prevent me from spending as much time as I would like in classrooms. I learn a lot and gain insight when I take time to be in classes. I begin to understand more about student and staff needs, what is working well and perhaps areas the District needs to dedicate more resources. It is time well spent.

It also provides me with great motivation when I can see the tangible impact of the work that we collectively do as a District.  We have made a substantial investment in new technology.  It was an expensive purchase, but worth the cost when I could see students and staff using them in every classroom, the hallways, and the media center today to construct their learning.  There were several new teachers hired this summer, which required us to consider how best onboard new staff with the tools they need and provide training in areas that are more specific to the District.  It was rewarding to see some of our new staff demonstrating effective strategies in their classroom with their students alongside our returning staff.  I am glad they are here and an essential part of making Shenandoah the place to be.

Please consider taking a digital walk with me using this video to see why I had such a great day.

Monday, September 10, 2018

September Board Brief

Sarah F. Martin and Jason Shaffer shared information at the Board meeting held on Monday, September 10, 2018, about the recent STEM Festival that was held at the Shenandoah High School last week.  Wow, that was a great day for our students. I had the opportunity to listen to the keynote speakers present and found their message to be quite relevant for our students.  There were several breakout sessions for the students to attend.  Allocating resources to support STEM instruction is a wise investment as it open doors for our students to develop the skills they need to pursue their career options of choice.

It was very nice to be able to report to the Board a letter written by Alan Beste, the Executive Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, about our Shenandoah CSD Coaches and Student-Athletes.  The letter commends them for their great conduct and sportsmanship. Shenandoah was one of 166 schools who had no student-athletes or coaches ejected during the 2017-2018 school year.  They have received this acknowledgment for the last several years, it speaks well them.  Congratulations!

Every year at the September meeting, the Board reorganizes to elect new leadership.  Monday evening at the Board meeting, Jean Fichter, was elected President of the Board and Greg Ritchey was elected Vice President of the Board.  I appreciate their willingness and dedication to serving in these roles.

Jean Fichter, Board President
Greg Ritchey, Board Vice President

The Board addressed the consent agenda and several action items as well.  There was a date amendment made to the Instructional Support Levy Resolution so it was necessary to make that corrective action and reset the hearing date for October 8, 2018, at 5:00 PM.  The Board also approved the supplemental state aid request for the Special Education deficit of $490,000.  Additionally, the Board took final action on the meal charge policy and wellness policy.   There was a first reading on a new series of policies related to access to Education Records and Student Directory Information

Over the last few months, the Board approved other facility projects that are turning out very nice.  The tennis courts are now complete, and the new signage at the high school is as well.  The courts look great and are much safer to use now.  I appreciate the Booster Club paying for the new signage. It gives the high school a fresh look.

We have started the process of removing the "cottage" or the office building at the bus barn.  The building has been well used over the years but the repairs that were needed are too costly to consider.  Different space has been provided for transportation staff to use in the mechanical shop.

Board Members, Jean Fichter, and Adam Van der Vliet will be joining Jason Shaffer and me on a road trip to Columbus, Nebraska this week to see their Career Technical Education Center to consider as a model location for the work that is needed at the Shenandoah High School.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Homecoming: Rich Past, Awesome Present, Hope for the Future

This weekend I was with my husband and parents for a holiday weekend getaway on the Missouri riverfront.  A total stranger joined our table for breakfast and began talking about the richness of the Midwest and the beauty of the Sandhills of Nebraska.  I watched my mother's face light up as shared a little bit about her memory and experience growing up in the Sandhills.  For my mother, being from the Sandhills is a point of deep pride. While some may consider it a somewhat isolated place to live, she can see how her background and experience is part of her strength and shaped part of her life.   

While I was born and raised in Nebraska,  I have grown fond of Southwest Iowa and find Shenandoah is a great place to be.  It is a place Don and I have called home the past three years.  I have learned a lot about the community culture, pride, and values during this time and have met some pretty incredible people who have contributed to building a healthy community and strong school system.  Some have lived here a lifetime and others are transplants like me, but they are proud to be part of  "Shen" and are strong supporters of the Mustangs and Fillies.  They believe in the spirit of Shenandoah and understand the foundation of how it was built.

My reflection about this weekend led me to think about homecoming which is coming soon.  Homecoming is such a heartwarming and thoughtful tradition. The tradition of Homecoming is one of welcoming back alumni and celebrating community. It is meant to demonstrate a school's culture and pride. In part, it is a statement that where we come from is important and should be valued. Homecoming is about the richness of the past, the awesomeness of the present day, and the hope for the future, so please consider this your invitation from me to join us in celebrating homecoming starting Sunday, September 23rd through Friday, September 28th.  It is going to be a great week of exciting activities you will not want to miss.

Sunday, September 23rd there will be a 
Color Run/Walk at 5:00 PM.  It will be followed by a grill out and a powderpuff football game.  Monday evening there will be a pep rally at 7:00 PM. The parade will march through downtown Friday at 2:30 PM.  The Mustangs will wrap it up with a football game against Red Oak at 7:00 PM Friday evening.  You can find related information at or by contacting the Aaron Burdorf the High School Activities Director at . 


What Do We Stand For?

What do We Stand for?  I was asked this question earlier in the week by a non educator wearing an I Love Nebraska Public Schools shirt. Whi...