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Thanksgiving note to Norris 2010

We at Norris School District SD#160 have many blessings for which to be thankful and today is certainly an appropriate occasion to recognize some of these gifts. While we enjoy time with our families and friends at home, at church, and of course in the Black Friday shopping mall mayhem this weekend, I wanted to pause momentarily to consider some of what I am grateful for here at Norris and share that. Here's a short, far from exhaustive list:

*I am thankful we have an administrative team that sets high expectations for all because they believe that we must always strive to get a little better no matter what our previous accomplishments. That belief we are accountable to each other for perpetual self-improvement is a pretty powerful motivator.

*I am thankful we have such a dedicated support staff that takes care of so many things behind the scenes that the rest of us have come to take much of what they do for granted. From shimmering waxed tile floors and vacuumed carpets to a flee…

Comments at Foundation Banquet: SCC Learn To Dream & FFA Farm Project

[Speech from Norris Foundation & Alumni annual banquet held @ Yankee Hill Country Club in Lincoln the evening of Friday, November 19th, 2010]

Good evening, I have a special announcement to begin with tonight, that is that I want to point out one of our very special guests here - I noticed retired Middle School principal Barry Stark is here tonight.  Bar-Meister, where are you?  Yeah, there he is...hey, Barry, Mary Jo Rupert, current Middle School Principal could not be here tonight. That's because she's supervising the 7th and 8th grade dance - I am sure she would love some supervision assistance if you want to just rush right over there afterward, I know she'd appreciate it!

[Barry - interjected: "Johnny, I can't rush anywhere anymore!"]

Well, I am here tonight as your Superintendent and I have the opportunity to follow Lenny Vermaas, who pointed out that Teammates is a way to give back that costs nothing. Now you know, as soon as you see a Superintenden…

How much money will be there for state aid to schools, anyway?

I am at the Nebraska School Boards conference in Papillion. Yesterday were the pre-conference workshops and the regular sessions run today and conclude with a Friday luncheon. Yesterday afternoon I attended the NE School Business Officials meeting. The meeting was attended by about 50 school finance leaders (Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Business Managers, etc.) from across the state. 

One factor that was discussed was the uncertainty around how much money is actually available for state aid.  Amazingly, it doesn't appear that anyone knows.  Even Dr. Dulaney, who is one of the most knowledgeable and informed in the state about these matters said, "Pick a number, you might be as accurate as one I'd come up with or what the Revenue Forecasting Board just predicted."  One state department official, acknowledging the speculative nature of budget forecasting and guesstimating dollars available for state aid, said "I work with it every day and I'm n…

An ugly state aid timeline is projected for NE Schools

I am at the Nebraska School Boards conference in Papillion. The place is crawling with Superintendents, district administrators, and school board members from across the state. Yesterday were the pre-conference workshops and the regular sessions run today and conclude with a Friday luncheon. Yesterday afternoon I attended the NE School Business Officials meeting. Speakers included Russ Inbody with the NE Department of Education's School Finance office and Michael Dulaney, the Executive Director of the NE Council of School Administrators.

These guys and the other school finance folks who spoke were eloquent and informed, but it was like a three hour Debby Downer monologue. Here's one factor to worry about:

Timeline: The timeline on state aid is not going to work out well for school districts for budgetary planning purposes.  By law, schools have to inform teachers of their employment status for the next year by April 15th.  Though the target date for getting a certified state a…

Comments at Press Conference for Hickman Regional Recreational & Event Complex

[I was invited to speak as a district representative at the press conference unveiling the JEO-developed Master Plan for a Hickman regional rec and event complex.  The complex is slated to include development of a drive-in movie theater complex, baseball diamonds, a skate park, picnic shelters, and a splash park.]

DATE: October 27, 2010


This is a neat day for Hickman and as Superintendent of the Norris District, it is great to have the opportunity for our district to have been invited to have a voice in the planning and development process. Our district of course is a direct beneficiary of the growth of the Hickman community; for as Hickman grows, the Norris population continues to grow. One of the key words in our district mission statement is “thrive” – and this rec and event complex is a means by which Hickman citizens and residents of the entire Norris district and surrounding areas can “thrive” through active and healthy lifestyles. We have emphasized families being active toget…

Senator Adams Speaks & You'd Better Believe I Was Listening!

All right, Senator Adams, a longtime York educator and chair of the unicameral Education Committee, did not so much speak today as he gesticulated emphatically, hammering his point home about how those of us in the schooling business need to be especially mindful of the fact that 'The Cliff Effect' is coming. He spoke to Superintendents today at ESU 6 in Milford.

For the uninitiated, the Cliff Effect is the appropriately ominous phrase for what happens in state aid to education in Nebraska (and elsewhere) when the federal stimulus dollars have disappeared and the state lacks the revenue to replace those lost dollars back to schools. It's coming - in fact, it's just around the corner.

It's not actually true that all the stimulus money is gone next year. The feds passed another multi-million dollar package on the EduJobs bill that was designed to save teacher jobs. That money will come to NE in the form of another $58 million. Sadly, 58 million sounds like a lot of din…

Why We Celebrate Achievement

[All staff meeting comments May 3, 2010]

The purpose of today’s meeting is to share celebration points that affirm the outstanding instructional practice that leads to excellent student achievement. We are not going to take a lot of time to do this today, because the point is not to dwell on all the specifics so much as to affirm and recognize contributions to the team effort, upholding what we value. We are going to take a few minutes to recognize one another for the great things that continue to happen here at Norris.
· First of all, everyone is busy, but we must never be too busy to notice outstanding performance. If we fail to recognize excellence, how will we distinguish it from anything else? How will we know to repeat it? We tarnish excellence when we do not overtly uphold it and point it out, so that we can emulate it. It just becomes another assumed thing. That is a dangerous gamble to take with excellence; excellence is something that needs to be brought out in the light of da…

What I learned at the Boston Marathon

I ran the 114th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 19th. This photo was taken about 10 minutes after I literally hurled my Gatorade all over my shoes after the finish, nearly passed out, and heard the five words no marathoner wants to hear: “Do you need a medic?” After refusing to go the medical tent, (because I figured I could just lean on Sara) I managed to fold my cramping legs into a cab and we got back to the hotel. It was awesome! I have a blissful look because approximately 2.5 seconds after the snapshot was taken, I collapsed in bed and did not move for 2 hours! Hooray for physical activity. Marathons may be a little excessive but they do give one a neat sense of accomplishment.
Here are two important things I think I learned in Boston:

*Great city, great people, so kind and encouraging of all participants. It reminded me that everyone’s got their own race to run. Pace doesn’t matter so long as you’re in the race. The point is to keep movin’!

*Enjoy the moment. I derived a lot of…

Welcome speech to EMC Counselors

[Remarks from Skretta to EMC Counselors conference hosted at Norris April 16th]

Welcome to Norris! We have a beautiful campus here and we are glad to have the opportunity to host you. Thanks for coming.

As counselors, I want to express my gratitude to each of you for the way in which you allow us to stretch your capacity! Administrators are demanding of our counselors and you respond well. Curt and Becky have been phenomenal examples of that here at Norris. I know it’s a truism in education, but it does seem that we never ask anyone to do less and there is no group that is truer of than counselors, because you are in that ideal middle realm….administrators delegate to you, teachers complain to you, and you get to figure it all out so it works! It is another truism that “Adminstrators Decide, Counselors Do.” I know that’s playing out right now in our scheduling process. When it comes to the specifics: thanks for figuring it out!

It just becomes more challenging for counselors, so …

State Fiscal Encounters of the Deficit Kind

I’ve come across three interesting articles recently that I wanted to share. To me, they all relate to the same theme, which is that the economic challenges facing schools in our neighboring states are real and that they are likely to play out in a similar fashion, soon, in Nebraska. While 2010-11 still looks pretty decent in comparison to what’s coming the next couple years after that, there are already many districts in our own state that are floundering.

There is an abundance of information out there right now about this. Clearly, it behooves us to pay attention to this finance information so that we are cognizant of what our policy-makers at the state and national level are doing (or not doing) to address the crisis and so that we can respond thoughtfully and strategically rather than reactively. On a local basis, it may be instructive for us to examine how other school districts handle this to better prepare ourselves should we encounter such challenges.

The Des Moines Register htt…

The Roy Baker School of Leadership Lessons

Wednesday morning I have a wonderful opportunity. I get the chance to kick off a day of interviewing as one of three final superintendent candidates for Norris. I have no idea whether I’ll emerge from the battle as the candidate of choice, but I know that I am excited beyond belief and I am proud to be the internal candidate who represents the legacy and tradition of Norris leadership. It may sound audacious, but I believe I’ve been reared by the best.

I say that because I worked just down the hall from our retiring superintendent Roy Baker for four years as the high school principal and for the last year and half+ now, I have had the chance to work right next door to him as an assistant superintendent. Heck, by process of osmosis alone I have learned quite a bit about leadership. Some of my learning has been just through that exposure to the Sup day in and day out, as things come up. And some of that learning has been very intentional – wherein Roy has deliberately conveyed an …

Snow Woes

A recent Lincoln Journal Star editorial lambasts Lincoln Public Schools for calling off school on Wednesday. I think the article is a bit unfair because we were in a winter storm warning, and to ignore that would have put the safety of students in peril. LPS has well over 30,000 students and many walk to classes. My gosh, the same time LPS gets hammered by the paper for not holding class, the Omaha World Herald has an article about two middle aged women (two separate instances) who died of exposure in the recent storm.

Norris called off school on Wednesday, too. The paper has been reluctant to criticize other area or county schools for this decision, perhaps due to some recognition that we have many rural roads that were dangerously drifted and others that were simply impassable. (I know this by my own eyewitness account of the roads on these last few days, but also from reports from other staff members in the know). We would have risked very unsafe driving conditions Wednesday afterno…