In Education, What’s Really Important.


As a school administrator, one of the best parts of my job is seeing students mature into young adults.  Keep in mind it’s only one part.  Getting a paycheck is also quite pleasant.Really?

I see first graders grow up and become Prom King or Queen.  I blink my eyes and the fourth graders who play soccer or basketball during recess are now playing on high school teams.  Little kids who sing their hearts out in music class suddenly become the lead performers in the high school musical.

Time goes by so quickly (a sure sign of old age).  The experiences we have with our kids when they are young are valuable.  It is the basis of how successful they will become as adults.

This is why parents are always concerned about their child’s education.  They want everything to go just right (and in my case to make sure The Evil Spawn is self-efficient enough to live in her home after she graduates).

Parents want the best for their son or daughter and that’s how it should be.

They worry about getting them in the right school.  They worry about them having an advanced curriculum.  They are concerned about getting them placed with the proper teacher.

I think all of these concerns are valid, but in my opinion they are not the biggest issue in regards to a student having a positive school experience.

The number one thing a student needs to be successful is placement in the right class with the right mix of students.

In the correct situation with the right peer group, a student can make wonderful progress.

Academics can improve.  Behavior will be appropriate.  Attitude won’t be a problem (until they become teenagers… then it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves).

Without the right peers, all of this can go the wrong direction.

A good class can bring everyone along for the ride.  Every student will maximize their potential.  A bad class can drag everyone down to the bottom.

This doesn’t mean they all have to be “A” students.  It’s more about their personalities meshing.

Student placement in the right class far outweighs the right teacher or certain school building.

I don’t discourage parents from worrying about their child’s school, teacher, or curriculum.

They just shouldn’t forget to worry about the peer group that will surround their son or daughter for the next 13 years (if all goes well, of course).

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What Happens When the Superintendent Doesn’t Call Off School.


I’ve been there.At Least They Aren't Throwing Snowballs at Him.

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If You Facebook or Twitter, Please Be Reminded Other People Can Also Read.


Since I began my long and illustrious career in education, I’ve noticed a couple of subtle changes.Be Careful Out There.

First, kids look a whole lot younger now than they did eighteen years ago.

Back in the day, seniors in high school seemed old to me.

Now, they look like they’re 12.

Secondly, everything else in education has completely changed and it all makes me a little nervous.

Testing.  Evaluations.  Common Core.  Lawsuits.  Government attacks.

It’s a lot.

I try to roll with all of it, but I must admit it can be stressful.

If all of this wasn’t enough, then there is the King of Changes.

Technology.

So many changes (I guess that’s why it’s called the King of Changes… or at least it’s called that now).

When I was in high school back in the 80′s (19… not 18), my school was one of the very first to offer One-to-One Computers.

We had one school.  And one computer.

But don’t worry, progress was coming.

A few short years later when I began teaching, we had a computer lab.  With 12 computers (that was what we called…  a lot).

And a printer.

How I loved that dot matrix printer.  The sounds it made.  The constant tearing off the pieces of paper with the holes in it.

The paper jams.  Good times.  Good times.

A student could print a 5 page English paper in less than 40 minutes (it was a special time).

I don’t mean to brag, but it was state of the art.

Back then, technology changed every couple of years.  I could keep up.

Now, it’s changing every couple of minutes.  I can’t keep up.

The thing I’ve noticed lately is students understand all of this new technology a lot better than I do. 

And at the same time, they don’t seem to understand it all.

Facebook is great (follow me!).  Twitter is cool (follow me!).

Social media’s greatest attribute is it makes the world smaller.

The worst thing is it makes the world smaller.

This is the part I don’t think students understand.

What they write on Facebook and Twitter is available to everyone.

And I mean everyone.

Back in the mid-80′s (a glorious time… thank you MC Hammer), students were free to share their thoughts, comments, and criticisms amongst their friends.

Now, their every thought is published worldwide for all to see.

It most cases this is okay.

They are at the age where opinions are formed quickly and expressed loudly.

I just worry that while they are old enough to share their thoughts, they are too young to realize the consequences.  They seem to be oblivious to the fact their words often times travel outside their peer group.

Long story short.

Dot matrix printers and MC Hammer were very cool (because we didn’t know any better).

Technology changes so quickly I can’t keep up.

This is all part of being old.

Another part of being old is I can read.

So if you are going to skip school or practice…

Don’t post it online.  :)

Use your time wisely children.  Google MC Hammer.

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Time to Focus on the 4 Kinds of Smart.


I think we may be at a turning point for public education, but what do I know (please don’t answer… or send me insulting/truthful emails).There May Be More, But This Picture Indicates There Are Only Four Types of Smart.

In ten years, the world of education may be overtaken by home schooling, charter schools, and online learning (this interweb thing really seems to be catching on).

This makes me a little sad because I’m a big fan of public education (almost as big of fan as I am of chocolate).

But it’s all I know.

Maybe there is a better way.

Maybe our students can be better served by another type of system.

Maybe, just maybe, a system that relied less on government funding could better educate our children.

I don’t want to sound crazy, but schools might be better off if they didn’t have to answer to politicians (a crazy thought I know, but I’m just throwing it out there).

Here’s what I do know.

Public schools try to be everything to everybody.

We teach.  We serve breakfast.  We make sure kids know how to drive.

We offer exercise (if you count PE).  We put a whole lot of students on the Honor Roll. 

We teach kids how to type (why… I don’t know).

We provide sports and after school activities. 

We provide things we can’t afford and spend money in ways that may not be fiscally responsible.

To summarize, we try and do so much that we probably set ourselves up for failure.

My latest theory is we need to downsize.

Focus in on what students actually need.

Focus on things our country could actually benefit from since our students will be the ones leading us in 20 years.

I see 4 types of smart in students.

Academic.  Athletic.  Vocational.  The Arts.

Not 100% of all kids fall into one of these categories, but 99% of them do.

Common sense tells me we should identify what a student is good at and then help them be great.

Yet, we sort of identify what a kid is good at then we try to make them the same level of good in the other areas.

Mediocrity seems to be our goal.

Academic kids should be thrown in rigorous programs at a very young age.

Athletic kids should be given the opportunity to maximize their skills.

Vocational students should learn the skills they need to keep this country growing.

Students who thrive in the Arts should be allowed to do just that.

I think it’s simple.

And I think we make it complicated.

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My Graduation Speech.


It’s that time of year where schools and universities pay a lot of money for bad graduation speeches.Life Stinks.

I want in on this.  I don’t think you have to be an alumni or a politician to bore people silly.

Plus, I could use the cash.  So, here we go.

Dear Students:

Congratulations on making it this far.  You thought high school and college was the best time of your life.

You were right.

Now the work begins.  If you can find it.

Adults in your life don’t tell you the whole truth, especially when you are graduating from high school or college.  They are just happy you are not in jail.

Plus, they love you.  They have to.  It’s the law.

They also don’t want to tell you the truth because they don’t want to watch you cry like a junior high boy

So I’m going to.

I’m not here to completely crush your hopes and dreams, but it’s probably going to happen so you might as well sit back and take it.

1).  Life stinks.

It’s hard and complicated.  Nothing about life even remotely resembles what you see on commercials or in vacation brochures.

Life isn’t a sitcom.  It’s a drama.  Or tragedy.  Depends on how lucky you get.

Your parents and grandparents have traveled a difficult path to get you here, so now it’s your turn.

Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy road.

2).  Happiness.

Today you are happy.  There will be hugs.  And gifts.  And cake.

Tomorrow you will wake up unemployed and deeply in debt.

Happiness will have left the building.

This situation will improve for some of you.  Others will continue to wake up unemployed and deeper in debt for years to come.

I paid off my last student loan at the age of 35.  I got lucky.  That’s early.

Take my advice and expect the worse.  That way, if life doesn’t consistently kick you in the face you will be pleased.

Just for the record, anticipate a lot of face-kicking.

3).  Don’t Screw Things Up.

Just do what you are supposed to do.  Mow your yard.  Pay your bills (if you can find a job).  Be polite. Volunteer once in a while.  Don’t cheat on your taxes too much.

You will find yourself in the top 10% if you just pick up your trash and hold doors open for old ladies.

Don’t leave here thinking you are going to make the world a better place in the next 20 minutes. 

We don’t need more saviors.  We need solid citizens who don’t make things worse.

This sounds easy, but as you stumble through life look around and you’ll notice a lot of people who aren’t helping.

If you don’t believe me go to the mall and watch people walk by for 15 minutes and you will understand exactly what I’m saying.

4).  Get Married or Shack Up. 

I don’t care which one you do and I’m not here to judge.  I don’t care about your personal life because I have problems of my own (she’s 11 going on 37).

But when you do hitch your wagon to someone else try and pick someone you like.

Don’t do it for money.  Or looks.  Or so his or her dad will give you that job that you desperately need.

Marry (or not) a person who will make you smile 70 years from now.

Life is short, but bad relationships are forever.

There is nothing worse than eating breakfast with someone you want to stab in the eye with a fork (or so I’m told).

5).  Don’t Reproduce and Mate Smartly.

This is an important one.

If you are unemployed, in debt, immature, hung over, angry at your parents, wear sweat pants more than once a week, or dumb – please don’t think you have to bring children into this world.

They are lot of work.  And expensive.

Once you have them, the government won’t let you give them away (learned this one the hard way).

Life is a marathon not a sprint.  You don’t have to have children in your 20′s.  Or at all.

Just because people ask you "When are you having kids?" doesn’t mean you have to do it.  Most of the time they are just asking because they have children and want you to feel the pain and suffering they go through on a daily basis.

If you must reproduce, realize it is very likely you will be just as bad a parent as your mom and dad.

Think about this before you go to the bar and start hitting on another unemployed broke person.

Don’t create another human just so you can mess them up like your parents did you.  That’s not fair.

To you.  The child.  Or the rest of us.

7.  Your Parents.

They aren’t crying today because you are all grown up.  They are crying tears of joy.

They are tired of paying for you.  They want their house back.  And their lives.  They are tired of you tearing up their stuff. 

They no longer find a 2:00 am phone call from you amusing.  There is no such thing as a "minor" traffic accident when you are driving their car.

Look at them.  They used to be young and vibrate, then you showed up.  Now they are old and tired.

Tired of you.  Tired of your laundry.  Tired of your bills. 

Sure, they will say you are welcome to move back home until you get on your feet, but what they really want is you out of their hair and at least 2 hours away.

They only have a few good years left.  Don’t ruin it for them by mooching off them for the next decade.

Allowances are for kids.  Not 25 year olds.

You will know life is winning if you are sleeping in the same bed you occupied when you were nine.

Also, adults don’t have posters on their bedroom walls.

8).  Take Care of Your Health.

We are all day-to-day.

Life is short and soon you will be dead.  This is one of those things people won’t tell you.

But I guarantee you, not one person in this room will make it out of life alive.

Enjoy the few days or years you have left. 

Old people will constantly tell you life goes fast.  They’re right.

They didn’t get to be old by being stupid.

Certain days will drag on and on, but the weeks, months, and years fly by.  Faster than you can ever imagine.

The moments are precious.  In fact, as I stand here I’m asking myself why I wasted the last several minutes talking to you.

Slow down when you get a chance.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Take a nap at every opportunity, because this journey called life, while quick, is exhausting.

8).  Credit Cards.

Cut them up.  Pay cash.  Understand the difference between a want and a need.

Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’ down the street because it’s highly likely they are up to their….. in debt.

You don’t need a boat, horse, pool, motorcycle, 12 bathrooms, or a vacation home to be happy.

New cars are for suckers.  Never invest in a sure thing.  Stay out of Las Vegas.

Understand the stock market always drops.

Always save for a rainy day, because all of us are about 30 seconds away from a monsoon.

True happiness is not tensing up when the phone rings because you think it might be a bill collector.

True happiness is having at least $1 more at the end of the month than you need.

9).  Diplomas.

They mean nothing.

It’s a piece of paper.  A piece of paper you could have printed up for yourself 4 years ago (it’s called Photoshop people).

Life is about who you know and being in the right place at the right time.

Some of you will obtain doctorates and fail miserably.

Others of you will know people who dropped out of high school and have become quite successful.

Life isn’t fair. 

The sooner you figure this out, the better off you’ll be. 

Don’t be afraid to work.  No job is beneath you.

You don’t get a fancy office and a big title just because you cheated your way through school.

You get those things after you work hard, not before.

10).  Expectations.

Set them low.  Really low.

Hope for the best, but expect the absolute worst.

The odds of you being great aren’t good.

That takes luck.  And a job.  And more luck.

Set your sights on being mediocre.

Mediocre is fine.  Mediocre can make you very happy.

The world is full of mediocre people.  There is only one Bill Gates.  There’s lots of you.

In conclusion, I would like to share the secret to life. 

A wise old man once told me to "Show up and shut up."  I suggest you do the same.

Good luck.  You are going to need it.

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Little Kids Says the Most Honest Things.


boyMe:  “Hi.”

Little boy:  “Are you Mr. Superintendent?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Little boy:  “My dad says you are great.”

Me:  “Thanks.”

Little boy”  “My mom says you’re terrible.”

Me:   Speechless.

My job performance is evidently 50/50.  Pretty good. I’ll take it.

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When Did Average Become Below Average?


Not Sad, But True.Question:  In your school or community, how many students made the Honor Roll?

Answer:  Most of them (no, I’m not a psychic… but I did play one on TV).

If you don’t believe me (and thank you for calling me a liar), the next time it’s in your local paper count the number of students listed.

Then compare it to the number enrolled.

You will discover what many educators already know.  The majority of students do VERY well.

At least with their grades.

We are raising a generation of students who believe success is the only option.

The Honor Roll is way different from students doing well on mandated testing. 

Or the ACT or SAT.

Turns out when Honor Roll students take these tests, some do great… some do “not as” great (which is okay, or at least it should be okay).

What is it about our society that we’ve come to believe every student must be successful?

I always thought you learned more from failure than from success.  More from losing than winning (and I speak as someone who has lost a lot).

Why aren’t C’s okay?

When did average become disappointing?

Did the Honor Roll expand around the same time we started giving out participation trophies?

Does every kid have to be recognized as being good at everything?

Shouldn’t the majority of students in any class be average?

Shouldn’t half get C’s and above and the other half C’s and below?

Isn’t that okay?

I wonder if we are doing more harm than good when we promote false expectations in students (and parents… not that there are any parents with unrealistic expectations… I’m just throwing it out there).

When report cards go home, shouldn’t parents be more concerned about how much their child has learned rather than what grade they’ve received?

Wouldn’t C’s be great if the student was 100 times smarter at the end of school  year?

As opposed to receiving all A’s and B’s and only being 10 times smarter?

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Great Discipline at School Starts with Bad Kids.


Someone asked me what they needed to do to be a successful school administrator.

Since I was unusually polite that day, I didn’t respond “blind luck and lots of it.”

The old saying is that to be successful as a superintendent the finances of the district must be in good shape. If they are, you get to keep your job. If they aren’t, you get to look for a new job.

For a principal, it is all about discipline. If people perceive you to have good discipline and it’s implemented fairly, you will get to keep your job. At least temporarily.

The question now becomes how does one have good discipline over a large group of students?

Especially when these students are dealing with personal issues, puberty, phones (cell), peer pressure, parties, and parents (I think I just made up a cool list of things that start with the letter P).

Easy. Go back to my original thought of blind luck.

If you aren’t abnormally lucky, I have another suggestion. Some Students Just Know...

Student population in regards to discipline can be broken down to the 33/33/33 Rule.

33% of the students will always do the right thing. Good kids with good parents (the ones that want to know immediately if their child is causing trouble… and of course they never do).

You will often find these students in the library, at a student council meeting, or volunteering.

These kids don’t need a principal. If fact, you could give them your keys to the building and they could start the school day without you. This is good to know if you are ever running late.

Teachers love these students. Consequently, as the principal you will never see them.

Ever.

They don’t need you. Unless they need a letter of recommendation.

The second group of 33% belongs to kids who want to do the right thing, but they could go either way.

You will see them… in the hallways, the parking lot, and occasionally in your office.

They will be on the fringe of both good behavior and bad.

If they do make their way to your office, it is usually just once a year. Most of their troubles are dealt with by the teachers.

Talking and tardies are their big crimes.

As long as these small issues are addressed, quickly and fairly, these students will do the right thing.

So 66% of all kids are pretty low maintenance.

That leaves a principal in charge of only a third of all students.

Not a difficult job. Quite manageable if you can control them.

How does one do this?

Easy.

Not really, I am just trying to build your confidence.

The plan is relatively simple.

Focus in on this last group. Pick out the meanest and most difficult students and hone in on them.

Every day.

Not by badgering them, or following them around. But by talking to them.

Every day.

Did I mention it has to be every day? Good.

Don’t spend your time with the quarterback or class president (remember, they will find you when they need that letter of recommendation).

Spend your time finding a kid who may get into trouble and speak to them.

Every period. At lunch. Before school. During their study hall. As they leave (hopefully this is at the end of the day and on their own accord).

Will this fix all of your problems? No.

Will it fix all of their behaviors? Are you kidding?

Not a chance.

But it will establish a relationship with the group of students that you will be working with most of the time. And it will make it easier for them to trust you when they do get sent to the office.

You don’t want them to think that you are only interested in them when they are in trouble.

A good principal should know their schedule, their friends, their hobbies (legal and otherwise), where they live, where they work (legal and otherwise), and their parents.

This 33/33/33 Plan won’t fix all of your problems, but it may help you survive.

What about the other 1%?

Don’t even get me started about the 1 Per Centers.

This 1% will take up 99% of your time.

As principal you will know them, their schedule, their parents, their grandparents, and maybe even the lawyer they keep threatening to hire to sue you.

You hope they do the right thing at school, but mainly you hope they don’t know where you live.

They are an entire blog series on their own.

As of now, I don’t have an official plan for them.

Unless you count blind luck as a plan.

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Can Kids Be Too Busy?


Can They Be Too Busy?  Or Does It Keep Them Out of Trouble?My wife said she had a dream last night. The good news was it was about me (I am pretty sure she doesn’t tell me about her “other” dreams).

The bad news is she said I was old in the dream. Really old. Like age-spots on my big forehead old.

I wonder if I was wearing my pants really high in the dream. I don’t care what anyone says, that it a good look.

Anyway, I had only one thought when she told me about the dream.

No kidding.

I think she missed her calling. She should have been a detective.

I guess she has been staring at her laptop and SMARTBoard for so long that she hadn’t noticed that I AM old.

I would like to point out that since I met her she has aged the same number of years, but since I still can’t cook, I will keep that information to myself.

This did get me to thinking.

Another year is almost gone. While I have mentioned this before, I am still amazed by how quickly the years are flying.

The calendar year flies…as does the school year…summer vacation…and most of all, the weekends.

As we head towards the end of the year, I am faced with the fact that my daughter is also getting older.

While she is 7, she maintains a social calendar of a 20 year old (except for the parties, tattoos, and piercings… knock on wood… seriously, everyone reading this knock on wood).

She doesn’t have much time for me.

If I want her to clean her room, I have to contact someone she likes to call “her people”.

It used to be that I only needed to ask her 30 seconds before I left the house if she wanted to tag along with me. Every trip was fun for her. Games, trips to the gas station, or going to the store.

Now when I ask, she says “I need to check my schedule.”

In the last year she has played on 3 soccer teams, a softball team, participated in Girl Scouts, started piano lessons, taken 3 vacations, gone to science camp, learned to swim, played golf, watched about 18,000 hours of Nickelodeon, read roughly 100 books, attended a dozen sleepovers, and joined a choir which practices once a week.

Last night she barely had time to teach me how to use my new Blackberry Storm.

And oh yea. She goes to school.

Which means there is homework at least 4 nights a week.

Sometimes I wonder if she is too busy. I am torn between encouraging her to participate in everything that interests her and making her slow down.

I have always felt like kids who keep busy, don’t have time to get in trouble.

But I also don’t want her to look back on her childhood and feel like she didn’t have any free time for herself.

I’m torn.

I’ve also thought that my job isn’t being a school administrator, but it is giving her as many opportunities as I can so she can be successful.

When she is older.

And I am actually really old (again, knocking on wood is appropriate).

But is it possible that she can be too busy?

Or that I won’t look good in high water polyester pants hiked up to my nipples?

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Sammy the Snake Slid Silently Down the Seashore.


My Friend... Sammy the Snake.As students work their way through school, they must take many important classes.

An argument can be made that any one of the following are the most enlightening: Math, English, Science, the Fine Arts, Physical Education, Drivers Ed., or a Vocational class.

The list is almost endless.

I am hesitant to leave out other classes because there are so many that are vital to a well-rounded education.

Kindergarten is one. If you are in my age bracket it may have been offered for only half a day. In my case, you attended in the AM or PM, depending on what side of the tracks you lived.

I got started by going to the early morning version. My first experience in growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Just to be fair, they switched us after Christmas break (back in the old days we could still call it Christmas break).

Personally, my choice for the most important class isn’t that difficult.

At least it’s easy today; 35 years after the fact. As with so many things in life, I had no idea at the time that it was important.

The class was Speech (thankfully, recess and lunch don’t qualify as classes because this would have made my decision much more difficult). And I am not talking about the kind of speech class where I demonstrated how to bake brownies (they were both a huge hit and delicious).

I can’t remember exactly when I started Speech class or how long they made me go (by they, I mean evil administrators).

My best recollection is that it began in 1st grade and I had to attend for roughly 27.4 years.

At least it seemed that long. Could have been longer, but it’s hard to tell (I have slept since then).

You see, I hated Speech class.

Actually, hate is too strong of word. Actually, it isn’t. I hated it.

Not because of the teacher, loved her.

Not because of the work. I liked the challenge of saying my S’s correctly (hence, Sammy the Snake Slid Silently down the Seashore… aah, I remember it like it was yesterday).

It was the circumstances that I hated. Mostly, because they pulled me out of class at least twice a week.

I dreaded leaving class, not because other students made fun of me (they probably did, I just have a “selective” memory and again, I am a big sleeper), but because I missed coloring.

Yes, my one clear memory of Speech is that I got yanked out of class and everyone else fired up their crayons.

Seems like a small thing, but nonetheless quite painful for me.

In a way, I feel like part of my youth was taken away (okay, maybe a little dramatic… but you only get to color for a very short period of your life).

My appreciation for Speech came years later. After I had conquered my S’s (sort of… it’s still a daily battle) and a slight stuttering problem (although oddly enough, I never stuttered while on the phone).

Now, all that is left are my memories of Speech. And an inability to color inside the lines.

Every so often, I think about my time spent in Speech class.

Usually the memories are good ones. I am appreciative of the skills I learned when I have to talk in front of a large group of people. And I am also thankful that I am now in a position to recommend students for speech services. This comes in handy when I run into a 1st grader whom I can’t understand.

But most of all, I think about those years of speech when I walk by a classroom and see students who are incredibly happy because they are…. coloring. And this makes me jealous.

But then I remember Sammy the Snake. And Mrs. Davis my Speech Teacher.

I guess the lesson here is that sometimes you just don’t realize the importance of a class or a teacher until later in life.

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Disclaimer

While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.