Bonds proposals are tricky business.
When Saline Area Schools sought community support for our $67.5 million bond measure earlier this year, a few thousand votes stood between needed safety & security improvements, infrastructure updates, and a potentially transformative school reform package.
Our facilities were aging and in need of a serious overhaul. If passed, the sweeping bond measure would give our staff the time—and the resources—to upgrade aging buildings, create safer, more engaging learning environments and significantly limit maintenance and upkeep costs, among other benefits.
A quick tour of the district and the need was glaring. Though it hardly mattered. There was no guarantee the bond would pass. The district had lost two separate bond measures.
This year, everything changed. An improved economy, coupled with a renewed commitment to engaging community members—including parents and other taxpayers—paved the way to a historic victory.
Rather than ask the community to blindly support our latest bond measure, the district engaged the community. We launched Let’s Talk!, an online communications platform that allows parents and other community members to engage in two-way conversations with district decision makers. The technology, is accessible through a tab on our district website. It demonstrates our commitment to listening and responding to community concerns and provides an always-on platform for addressing misinformation on social media and in the press.
When a group of community members wanted to know what kinds of school busses the district intended to purchase with taxpayer dollars, we were able to answer them—fast. Let’s Talk! existence helped allay stakeholders’ concerns, and demonstrated our commitment to transparency with voters. The result: more support, and deeper understanding of the issues, come decision time.
Collectively, our community understood that the bond was critical to the district’s long-term plans. When the bond passed, the change in sentiment was palpable. Our staff felt supported by our community. Our community, in turn, felt empowered by our staff. Trust in our school system was restored.
Now, as we head into the holiday season and the New Year, teachers, staff and community members can move forward together, bonded by a single mission: to improve the school experience for years to come.
I want to personally thank every staff member and community member who contributed to this important victory. Your undying commitment has forever shaped a brighter future for our schools—and, more important, for our students.
Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers. – Robert Half
In a fast-paced, technology-infused learning environment, students have quick access to information, answers and research. Finding answers is easy; knowing how to manage the information is quite another matter. One of the most important practices that a teacher can use to deepen learning, build a growth mindset and help students become aware of their thinking is asking well-designed questions. Masterful teachers innately and purposefully ask questions that can lead to specific learning targets. In theory, students are questioned at all stages of learning: understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Early in a unit, the questions simply stimulate curiosity: “What do we want to know?” Later in the unit, the questions might have an analytical focus: “What do you think might happen next?”
With preposterous access to information, questions that simply require students to repeat facts are easy to solve. However, information garnered via the Internet has little long-term value. Teachers need to focus on developing questions that prompt students to ask additional questions – to consider multiple responses, to build habits of mind.
Developing questioning techniques that foster deeper thinking and inspire students to consider various viewpoints takes time and practice. Master teachers design questions targeted toward each learning goal. Good questioning helps students achieve at high levels not only in the specific content area, but also teaches valuable life skills: persistence, risk-taking, flexibility, listening, cultural awareness, and interdependence.
Asking specific, thought-provoking questions is a tool that teachers and parents can use to stimulate learning. Typically, the response that parents hear to the question, “What did you do at school today?” is, “Nothing.” Rather than ask such a broad question, help guide the child with leading questions that are specific to the student’s learning environment.
- Wow! I like the squirrel picture that you drew. Why do you think a squirrel has a bushy tail?
- Tell me about the science experiment that you did today. What conclusions did you draw?
- I see that your homework is about photosynthesis. What is that process?
- What games did you play on the playground today? Can you think of a way to include more friends?
- Do you think that you could explain common denominators to me?
Examples such as these will keep students thinking about learning and help to extend and commit that learning to memory.
The mission of the Saline Area Schools is to create lifelong learners. Asking open-ended questions that encourage flexible thinking and reflection is a strategy to achieve that goal.
One of the topics related to the technology focus of the November 3rd “Protect Our Future” bond proposal is the need to address – in systemic ways – how student data is protected and managed. There are few aspects of the school system that are more critical to consider than the matter of safely securing and managing student data. First, educators value high-quality educational data. It is essential when striving to improve student achievement through instructional or pedagogical changes. Second, data can empower administrators, teachers, parents, and students with the information needed to make effective decisions that can benefit all learners. So, how do we ensure that the data is secure and managed as effectively as possible?
First, we need to make sure that the infrastructure, hardware and firewall systems are up to date. Robust hardware, up to date software, and effective network architecture are all necessary to safeguard, access and use the student data. Realistically, this is an expensive proposition. These safety upgrades are prudent and necessary moving into an increasingly more technologically based society. Hence, there is the obligation to ask voters to consider these upgrades with the November 3 bond proposal.
The second consideration is to streamline internal processes by limiting the data necessary to support and improve student learning. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. We need to ask continually whether these particular data are necessary to aid in the learning process and improve student achievement outcomes. Whenever possible, aggregate data are used without personally identifying individual students. This data is valuable when evaluating programs and services.
Student privacy and data security matters are ongoing concerns within the educational system. Diligence in the selection of robust hardware, software, and network efficacy aid in structural protection. Consistent, undeviating review of policy, practice and training reduces human error. Having the necessary resources to implement this two-pronged approach to safeguarding student data is necessary in the Saline Area Schools. Remember to vote on the November 3 “Protect Our Future” bond proposal.
In a few weeks you’ll be asked to weigh in on whether you think our school district should issue a $67.5 million bond to improve our educational infrastructure and facilities over the next several years.
The bond proposal includes funding to:
● Safety & Security updates and upgrades at all school buildings
● Infrastructure updates to improve energy efficiency
● Updates and upgrades for instructional technology
● Site improvements to Heritage/Woodland Meadows parking and drop-off/pick-up loop
● Purchase school buses to replace fleet over 10 years
● Develop turn lane on Campus Parkway at HS to allow better traffic flow
We are holding our second community forum to share more information about the proposal on Monday, October 19th at 7:00pm in the Liberty School Media Center. Please come to the forum and learn more.
If you have questions about the proposal, you can also you use our Let’s Talk site.
As the start of the school year is getting close, I have been thinking about children in our community that are not yet “school-aged.” Research continues to show the critical role that high quality preschool experiences play with regard to student success once the children start kindergarten. In fact, a recent study conducted by Vanderbilt University shows that students who participate in strong preschool programs reap benefits reaching into adulthood! While cognitive benefits cannot be downplayed, the psychological skills learned in preschool programs teach children how to be successful adults.
I recently read a letter from a parent that had a child in Pooh Corner Pre-School last year. Here is a quote stuck with me,
“For me, the best part about his teachers at Pooh Corner is their ability to maintain a structured learning environment, but also recognize and respond to the needs of the individual child.”
We are fortunate to have access to high quality preschools within our community and region. When looking at a program, I encourage the focus to be on the following areas:
Is it a safe environment? Is there space outdoors? Are there a variety of materials? Open-ended play materials and opportunities?
Is there a consistent routine? Time for child-initiated activities? Large and small group time?
Is it a warm and caring atmosphere? Is there acknowledgement of child efforts? Is there encouragement for peer interaction?
Curriculum Planning & Assessment
Is there a curriculum model? Are the staff taking notes about child behaviors?
Is your input valued by the educators? Are you asked for information to help the teachers better understand your child? Are you encouraged to visit, volunteer?
I am looking forward to the school year for the school-aged students and I am also looking forward to seeing the pre-school aged children in our community taking advantage of the learning opportunities available through the Saline Area Schools and the greater Saline community.
— Jennifer Miller (@jenniferkmiller) July 14, 2015
To be invested in learning throughout one’s life is part of the mission statement for the Saline Area Schools. What is exciting for me is to witness how well the Saline Area Schools staff embody that mission over the summer! Through social media, staff members are posting of their learning opportunities from all around the country. Updates are posted from New York to Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and even Finland as teachers and administrators seek training to enhance the experiences for all Saline students. For Saline teachers, the summer is a time to learn!
I follow along on Twitter as teachers post what they are reading, participating in focused chat sessions, and networking with other educational leaders from across the country, and around the world. And it is that leadership that we need now – more than ever before – from all of the teachers. Teacher leaders bring innovative ideas from other educational gurus and technology experts to a district that is already at the forefront of instruction and learning. How exciting that the teachers model in their personal lives the same outcomes that we hope to instill in the students: lifelong learners and leaders.
Bringing excellence to teaching and learning, and leading the way for others to emulate is a source of pride in the Saline Area Schools. Teacher leaders, those that seek to improve continuously, will return to school in the fall with new, innovative approaches to instruction and pedagogy. It is with pride that we follow these teachers on their learning adventures. How exciting that they have the drive to strive for excellence in all that they do; the students of the Saline Area Schools are the most fortunate recipients of that learning.
I have been reading about the need for organizations to be “mission driven” in the 21st century. In these fast-paced, technology-driven times, employees and educational leaders must be focused on the organizational mission. Adopting a system-wide, results-based philosophy with a clear vision is essential. The mission of Saline Area Schools is:
We, the Saline Area Schools, will equip all students with the knowledge, technological proficiency, and personal skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly complex society.
We expect that our students, staff, and the Saline community will share in these responsibilities.
Our ultimate goal is to instill in our students a desire for lifelong learning.
If this is the result that we want achieve – to instill a desire for lifelong learning – how is that measured? Are the mandated state assessment (M-Step, ACT, NWEA) scores relevant data points? If so, how can we use that data to measure success? Are data points like attendance, college acceptance, and college completion rates better indicators of lifelong learning? What about students that pursue skilled trades and the training that entails? What about non-traditional learners that continue to focus on learning? How is that information on that success captured, and if it is – how is it actionable for us when the students leave the Saline Area Schools?
The idea I have been thinking about is looking at student engagement as a measure of instilling a desire to learn. Measuring student engagement would drive us to look for ways to more deeply involve students in their learning. Once students understand why education is important and become excited and committed to learning, the drive to excel and continue learning becomes an innate part of the student’s psyche. Measuring student engagement is no small task. It would push to assess what engagement looks like at various grade levels. Will deeper engagement lead to higher scores on our current assessments while leading to a deepening desire to learn?
I still have more questions than answers, but the need to define what is actionable about our mission is clear.