Monday, April 14, 2014

Balancing Budget Decisions

The spring is a time for planning for the 2014-15 school year, developing a budget that meets the needs of the students of the district with the available resources is a complicated process as we attempt to balance the school district budget.  Stuart Simpson, Business Manager, develops a calendar and timeline for the budget process.  Planning for the 2014-15 fiscal year began in January 2014, taking into consideration the school district fiscal year is September to August.  Certified contract negotiations were completed in January, Certification of State Aid occurs in April.  The combination of these two major factors allows the planning to move forward in earnest.  Continuing the budget process, the school district receives preliminary tax valuations in June, a Budget Hearing is held in August, a Levy Hearing in September, and the official adoption of the budget by the School Board in September.   Three members of the school board serve on the Finance/Communication Sub-Committee; this committee is involved in budget discussions every month.
One of the six district priorities is “Efficient and Effective Use of Resources” and one of the four district goals is “Maintain finances in order to sustain educational programs while maintaining and improving safety, accessibility, usability and value of our school facilities within budget limitations”.   This priority and goal directly relate to the development of our district budget.  We make every effort to utilize our resources efficiently and effectively; the primary resource in a school district is the staff.  Every spring we have retirements and resignations, prior to hiring replacements for these staff members we evaluate the position to determine if a staff member needs to be hired for that particular position.  We take several factors into consideration, including; student enrollment, program efficiency, class size, and impact on student learning.
For example; Hall Elementary School had four students registered for the 2014-15 Kindergarten class – a decision was made to not offer Kindergarten at Hall, those four students will be transferred (parent choice) to another Kindergarten classroom within the district.  The teacher was reallocated to an open position in the district.  Another example; two special education positions were open this spring due to resignations; the district and building administration evaluated teacher caseload and determined that these two positions can possibly be absorbed with reallocation of current district special education staff.

Building administrators, in cooperation with district administration, evaluate openings on their staff and determine if open positions could better meet the needs of the students by reallocating staff into areas of need.

Budget, fiscal responsibility, and allocation of resources are important topics for our school district and community.  We must look closely at these issues as we strive to meet our mission - Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

School Improvement - AdvancED Accreditation Review

We recently completed our external school improvement visit by an AdvancEd team.  The team consisted of educators from Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.  You may wonder what is AdvancED (Advancing Excellence in Education)?  AdvancED is dedicated to advancing excellence in education worldwide through accreditation, research and professional services. AdvancED is the world's largest education community, engaging 27,000 public and private schools and districts across the United States and in 65 countries worldwide and educating 15 million students.
Why is accreditation important? Accreditation is your assurance of North Platte Public School’s academic excellence. Accreditation ensures a standard of quality among credits, courses and grade level placements between schools and universities around the world. It also validates the equivalency of diplomas and certificates to other accredited schools and universities. In addition, students in accredited schools become part of a worldwide network of quality institutions focused on student performance.
The external review consists of interviews with administrators, teachers, support staff, students, board members, and parents.  In addition, brief classroom observations were completed in over 50 of our classrooms.  The review report includes identification of “Powerful Practices”; these are areas the review team recognized as areas we as a district are doing well.  AdvancED is a framework for continuous improvement, with this process it is also important to identify areas for improvement.  “Required Actions” are standards the team documented as focal areas for our district in the continues improvement cycle.  The preliminary External Review Report can be found here.   
The external review team recommended North Platte Public Schools receive “District Accreditation”, the district will receive a full report within 30 days and the AdvancED Commission grants Accreditation Status this June.

We feel the AdvancED external review and accreditation process is a valuable learning opportunity for our district and will assist us in our quest to achieve our mission Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success!

Monday, January 6, 2014

One Word

I am not one to typically make a lofty New Year’s Resolution; I do however, use the turning over of a new year to reflect and think about where I have been and where I am going. 

I did a little reading over the holidays, Tony Wagner books The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators, helped to remind me the vital aspects of education.  Wagner identifies 7 Survival Skills in his first book; Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Adaptability, Initiative, Communication, Analyzing Information, and Curiosity.  His second book focuses on developing innovators.   As I read and reflected on Wagner’s work I was reminded that much of what we do as educators is not measured by an assessment, in fact there may not be an all encompassing way to measure or assess the attributes educators strive to develop in students.  We must develop the skills that will help students become successful adults, with the knowledge and ability to not only survive but thrive.

I also read several good education articles, blogs, and tweets.  Right around New Year’s Day I saw several tweets and references to John Gordon’s book One Word That Will Change Your Life.   I have to admit that I have not yet read the book, but I have read several blogs related to the book.  This led me to think about my “one word”.  Rather than a New Year’s Resolution, I decided to come up with my word.  I thought about this for several days; came up with words and then discarded them.  Finally, I remembered a TED Talk I had seen by Angela Duckworth.  Duckworth spoke about “grit” and the relationship between grit and achievement.  Grit is a personality trait, defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”.  I decided grit would be my word.  In order to grow as a leader and educator I have set a simple goal.  Each evening as I reflect on my day I will rate my grit, have I shown perseverance and passion?  Long-term goals are achieved one day at a time! 

What is your “one word”?  What goals have you set to achieve this year?

Our responsibility as educators is assist students in acquiring the survival skills identified by Wagner, develop innovators, and cultivate grit, in this way we will meet our mission – Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Message

As I reflect on this holiday week I have many things to be thankful for both personally and professionally.  I am fortunate to serve as the superintendent of North Platte Public Schools; we have outstanding students, educators, parents, and volunteers. 

Students are the heart beat of a school and we have many wonderful students in our district; they work very hard in the classroom each and every day.  I have witnessed learning in every school and have visited most classrooms this fall; I even had the opportunity to substitute for a full day in a Kindergarten class last week and was reminded how much Student Learning occurs every single day.

The educators of North Platte Public Schools work each and every day to support student learning.  Educators frequently work long hours, attend school activities, and spend free time planning, collaborating, and thinking about their students.  The amount of hours and commitment that educators exhibit is commendable; a day should not go by that we do not thank the teachers, counselors, office staff, paraprofessionals, food service personnel, custodians, maintenance workers, and administrators for the Student Achievement that occurs in our schools.

The parents and guardians of our students that advocate for their children, assist their children with school work, and truly provide the best possible home they can.  Parents are the child’s first and most important teacher, working together with educators ensures Student Success.

Many volunteers serve our school district.  School board members willingly give their time, knowledge, and oversight to the district.  Community members volunteer to serve on committees, booster clubs, and parent advisory groups.   Business partners support various programs.

I am thankful we as a district are committed to our mission – Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success!

Monday, October 14, 2013

End of 1st Quarter

It is hard to believe the first quarter of the school year is already over!  Here is a chronicle of a few things that have transpired during the beginning of this school year.

We started the year welcoming nearly 40 new certified staff to North Platte Public Schools; including new principals at 3 buildings.  In August, Sarah Schuhl, a Solution Tree Associate started off the year with a presentation for staff “Working as a Professional Learning Community”.  The day was a valuable start to the year with a focus on student learning.

Elementary schools have adopted a new Language Arts program called Journeys.  The teachers have been hard at work learning and implementing this new curriculum with fidelity.  Secondary teachers are focused on implementing Response to Intervention (RtI).  This concept is in direct alignment with the Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  Both elementary and secondary schools are providing interventions and enrichment based on formative assessment data. 

We no longer have early release Wednesdays and now have one day a month focused on professional learning for certified staff.  The professional learning days are a full schedule of professional development focused on the 4 questions of a PLC:  What do we expect our students to learn? (Curriculum) How will we know if they have learned? (Assessment)  How will we respond if they do not learn? (Intervention)  What will we do if they already know it? (Enrichment)

North Platte Public Schools is in the process of preparing for an AdvancEd School Improvement visit in January 2014.  AdvancEd is committed to excellence in education and continuous school improvement.  Part of the process is looking closely at our educational system and identifying areas of strength and areas needing more attention.  Part of the process is a stakeholder survey that we are asking all parents, students, and staff to complete.  Please visit the district webpage to access the survey and have your input considered.

These are just a few of the areas of focus that we have been working on during the 1st quarter of this school year.  NPPSD staff continues to work together in pursuit of our mission - Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Professional Learning Days

On Monday, September 16th we will have our first Professional Learning Day for the 2013-14 school year.  Students will not attend school on this date so that teachers can work together to improve professional practice and support student learning.  For the past few years our district had Wednesday Early Release days each week; this year we have switched to a monthly full day for professional learning.    Our staff will be using this time to collaborate and learn together in order to achieve our district and school goals.   Two of our fundamental district priorities; Continuous Student Success and High Performing Personnel will be addressed each month during these professional learning days.

We have divided the day into several different areas of focus.  Teachers will engage in the following topics of learning; 

  • Journeys Training (Elementary only) – this is our new K-5 literacy program.  Teachers will meet in array schools (3 or 4 elementary schools working together) for this professional development.

  • School Improvement Mini-Session – we are in the process of preparing for a district accreditation visit in January and this session will update staff on the continuous improvement model.

  • Building Specific Professional Learning – each building principal will spend time with their staff on learning specific to their building goals and needs.  These discussions will include assessment data and the delivery of interventions and enrichment.

  • Grade Level/Content Discussion – Elementary grade level teachers will meet to share ideas and learn together; part of this discussion will revolve around the Journeys program, the grade levels will also discuss the sharing of documents, assessments, lessons,  and materials through google drive in what we are calling “Grade Level/Curriculum Cache”.  Middle School teachers from both schools will meet in content areas to address the questions: What do we want students to know? How will we know if they have learned?  How will we respond if they do not learn?  What will we do if they already know it?  High school teachers will discuss the same questions within their content level.

The monthly professional learning days are vital for teacher collaboration and learning; having this time together helps us ensure we are working together as a district to achieve our mission  - Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013 NeSA Results

The beginning of the school year and the return of students to the classrooms of our buildings coincides with the state release of Nebraska State Assessment Results (NeSA).  Full state, district, and school results can be found here.  We have mixed results in our district and I have identified a few positives and concerns.  
Positive - Half (10 of 20) of the district percentage of students’ meet/exceeds are at or above the state average:  Reading – 3rd, 4th, 5th; Math – 3rd, 4th , 6th; Science – 5th, 8th; Writing – 8th 11th
Concern - 3 of 20 average scales scores are at or above the state average:  Reading – 3rd; Math – 3rd, 6th
Positives - McDonald and Osgood Elementary Schools – At or above the state average with the percentage of students meet/exceeds in all tested grade levels and subject areas.  Eisenhower, Lake Maloney, Washington Elementary Schools - At or above the state average with the percentage of students meet/exceeds in 7 of 8 tested grade levels and subject areas.  Three of the Title I Elementary Schools – Buffalo, Lincoln, Washington have demonstrated significant improvement in the percentage of students meet/exceeds at or above the state average.  Buffalo 5 of 8 tested grade levels and Lincoln 4 of 8; along with Washington’s 7 of 8 demonstrate significant improvement.  Adams Middle School - At or above the state average with the percentage of students meet/exceeds in 5 of 8 tested grade levels and subject areas.
Concerns - 11th grade is on a downward trend in Reading and Math, both scale score and percentage of students meet/exceeds are below the state average and losing ground.  Madison Middle school is below the state average with the percentage of students meet/exceeds in all tested grade levels and subject areas.
Our response
               A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the student we serve.  PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.
Three Big Ideas of a PLC - Focus on Learning; Build a Collaborative Culture; Focus on Results
Six Essential Characteristics of a PLC
·        Shared Mission, Vision, Priorities, Goals
·        Collaborative Teams Focus on Learning
·        Collective Inquiry
·        Action Orientation and Experimentation
·        Commitment to Continuous Improvement
·        Results Orientation
Critical Questions
·        What do we want students to learn? (aligned curriculum, essential standards, learning targets,  high expectations)
·        How will we know if they have learned? (formative assessments, benchmarks, summative assessments)
·        What will we do if they don’t learn? (targeted interventions and support)
·        What will we do if they already know it? (enrichment and advancement)
Adapted from the work of Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker, et al.
Specific Steps
·        Intervention/Enrichment Periods (all schools)
·        Additional NWEA MAP assessments at 9th and 10th grade (longitudinal growth)
·        K-5 Literacy Curriculum Adoption (6-8 adoption last year)
·        Targeted Math Instructional Strategies
·        Updated Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum

Most importantly we will identify what we need to do to improve and take the necessary steps to provide our students with the best possible education we can in our pursuit of  - Student Learning, Student Achievement, Student Success.