Understanding the Superintendency - The Role of the School Board: A Basic Overview

In recognition of School Board Member Appreciation Day last week, here is a primer on what it means to be a school board member.
As a superintendent I have a single supervisor that consists of 7 people. These 7 volunteers are elected to serve as representatives of the community. As community members indicate they are interested in serving as Board members, before they run for a 4-year term, I share this document with them: “What it Means to Serve on the Board” that serves as an introduction to the role. I also meet with them and share my experiences as a superintendent, but also as a former board member. Most of this information I provide is from the Illinois Association of School Boards, the professional organization that supports school board members in Illinois. The IASB outlines 6 main responsibilities of a school board: Clarifies the district's purpose Connects with the community Employs a superintendent Delegates authority Monitors performance Takes responsibility for itsel…

Understanding the Superintendency: Snow/Cold Day Process

I am returning to my blog to begin a periodic narrative of what a superintendent actually does and some of the decision making that goes into this role. Since we are already into snow season here is a quick description of what goes into calling off school for cold or snow in my role.

It usually begins with a series of conference calls in the day or days before a potential emergency weather event  with DuPage County and the Office of Emergency Management. At the same time, I am discussing what we are learning with our local elementary school districts and other high school districts in DuPage County. There are several calls or emails between these groups and this continues throughout the day leading up to an emergency event. We follow our processes outlined on the District’s Emergency Closing Information page.  If we can make a call the night before, we try to before 9PM. Otherwise superintendents across DuPage County are monitoring the situation all night. We are in communication with …

Find the Good Points on the Way to Yes

As school leaders, we often have those around us approach us with requests that are difficult to meet. Many times, the first instinctive response we reach for in those difficult situations brought to us by a student, parent, or colleague is: “no.” That answer is safe, easy, and doesn’t require us to extend beyond our comfort zone. I heard once that the secret to helping others is by trying to get to “yes.” That doesn’t mean that the answer will be “yes,” but the trick is to figure out what it would take to get there and be open to walking down that path. Once you open the conversation up, you must listen carefully and find the good points. In nearly every difficult conversation, even those where you strongly disagree, there is usually some good idea. Looking for good points could get you closer to “yes.” It might not be what was asked for at the start, but working to “yes” gets you further than ending with “no.”

Summer is the Time to Grow - By Using a Rubber Duck

Almost everyone is done for the summer, or soon will be, and I believe this is your best time to grow through reflection because you actually have some time you can dedicate to the process. I have long practiced “Currere” as a method for structured reflection on a project or a school year. Here is a quick way to break down a school year using Currere by asking four simple questions:

What was my experience last year?What do I want to do next year?How am I feeling about current abilities and skills?What is my path forward to a successful year next year? The trick to taking action on what you learn from reflection is verbalizing what you are going to do next year. Speak your plans out loud and listen to what you are saying. As told in the recent “Rationally Speaking” podcast, you don’t have to explain your plans to anyone but yourself, but you do have to say them out loud - even if you just speak to a rubber duck. You will then help yourself build a better plan. The roadmap to having a gre…

The Actual Cost of Cursive in Illinois

Last week the Illinois House passed new legislation that would mandate that cursive is taught in schools across Illinois. This comes during the same time that they cannot pass a budget, for two years running. This got me thinking of the question "at what cost does cursive come at?" So I have attempted to estimate and cost it out.

The two major variables for hard costs are materials and professional development. Handwritten cursive requires consumable workbooks. A common set of materials for teaching cursive, which typically occurs in 3rd grade, is the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series, which comes at a cost of $11.69 per student. According to the Illinois Report Card we have averaged 152,545 third graders each year over the past five years. This gives you a cost of student materials of $1,783,246 for the first year,and for every year after that.

Many schools haven't been teaching cursive for a while, so we would have to coach up our teachers, modify daily schedules for 15…

Getting Students Connected to the Internet at Home to Close the Homework Gap and Digital Divide

The recent SchoolCIO Summit in Baltimore focused on closing the digital divide across the United States. SchoolCIO Summit attendees, comprised of K-12 edtech leaders, came from different backgrounds ranging from large urban school districts like Baltimore, to small rural ones like Neosho, Missouri, and everything in-between. Attendees identified the toughest digital equity challenge to be Internet access. Many attendees equated the Internet with water or power--a utility that is necessary in today's modern world. There are government agencies, communities, and businesses partnering to close this gap, such as the nonprofit EveryoneOn, whose Chief Programs Officer, Veronica Creech, led a panel discussion on the topic at the summit. The "One Million Project" (#1MillionProject) sponsored by Sprint seeks to close one-fifth of the five million unconnected families through WiFi hotspots. Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housi…

What You Do is Amazing

One of the challenges in working in education is the ease in which the public can attack schools. I believe that there are several societal changes that have led to the rise of teacher and school bashing:

1. The death of the local free press: It used to be easy to get a reporter and photographer to show up at school to see the awesome things going on. Now a lone reporter, who is spread too thin, tends to only show up when things go wrong. It is the bad news that gets Web visits.

2. Bad news has more places to travel fast: Social media promotes the travel of bad news--especially when it can be delivered in a punchy headline, picture, or video.

3. Schools are just buildings from the outside: The public drives by and sees our buildings but can't easily see what is going on inside of them.

Without evidence that school is different, the public is left to believe that school is a place that is worse than before and headed in the wrong direction. We need to change this perception. What educa…