Monday, May 3, 2010

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 day and not consigned to the shadows.
· We also need to do things like this periodically to make sure we share with one another as a larger district family, not three separate islands. We have many shared practices, shared colleagues and we are one intact system. You are all in the second year of a new information system, the first year of a standardized test (MAP), and the first year of state testing for reading. That’s a lot of change to absorb!
· We have just come through a month (really, March 29th through April 30th) that marks an historic shift in state testing as we move from STARS to NESA, from an environment of local control and development to mandatory state testing where testing becomes an event, some would say a full three-ring circus. The circus act is not going to get any easier. Next year, with the advent of an operational state math test on top of reading, it will make the acrobatics even more difficult as we have Reading, Writing and Math all ‘without a net.’
· There are a variety of ways in which we measure student achievement. I want to point out several of these to you with some basic indicators. [This is embargoed data so I have edited it out of the blog!]
o [NeSA-R reading test grade level averages, quartiles.]
o [State writing results]: Students have performed that well for so many years in a row that we have come to take it for granted. We shouldn’t, as it requires much pre-teaching and writing development in the grades which are tested and the years which precede those assessments.
o In MAP scores, Torri Lienemann and Ann Thober and other curriculum leaders in reading and math have helped students document tremendous growth as they achieve growth goals in reading, math, and language. There is probably no simpler means of validating the worth of MAP compared to Terra Nova than the fact that students compare their own results and are high fiving one another over RIT scores. Amazing!
o We sometimes neglect to account for data in other areas that are also vitally important to our students’ success. Just because the feds aren’t interested doesn’t mean we aren’t! We test for our own purposes, too! I want to highlight the achievements of the PE team in instituting Fitnessgram Testing. Through the hard work of the PE team and the support of other classroom teachers, we have students who have improved their strength, flexibility and endurance testing results throughout the year. As one student wrote, “I saw my body change for the better” and “I noticed a change in my energy” when fitness testing results helped him begin to lead an active and healthier lifestyle.
o Some other areas have performance assessments, too but they are not standardized tests. I was in awe a week ago Sunday as members of Titan Singers joined the Lincoln Civic Choir and Lincoln Symphony Orchestra to perform the music to a Mozart Mass at St. Paul’s Methodist church in Lincoln. It was an exquisite, remarkable performance.

There are many other areas deserving of mention, too numerous to probably sufficiently cover today. The point is that I hope you are aware that excellence is never business as usual. Excellence requires extraordinary effort, commitment, and follow-through. It requires both a sense of the importance of the big picture and an awareness that the devil is in the details. For all of you, I commend you for understanding that managing the minute details contributes to achieving the right outcome for everyone. Think of the kids who just added in the last week of the testing window and how we scrambled to get them set for a successful assessment experience. Not an easy challenge, but you rose to the occasion.

o I commend the work of building principals in cooperatively developing test schedules to ensure all students had adequate time and lab access to test. Thanks for playing nice together!
o I commend the work of our paraprofessionals who served as computer lab proctors and who helped work with students in alternate or extended time testing scenarios.
o I commend the work classroom teachers in all grade levels to teach to the standards and make an unwavering commitment to ensuring all kids succeed!
o I commend the work of special educators to ensure that all students are provided the accommodations entitled to by their IEPs and pushing proficiency for all!

I want to turn the microphone over to Principals, Curriculum Leaders, Pod Chairs, and Team Leads to be able to share a few words. While they may be sharing some data or some remarks that seem immediately applicable to a particular content area or grade level, I urge you to listen carefully and extract for yourselves the themes of excellence that our teacher leaders up here today are sharing with you. It’s open mic night; with the adage of “keep it positive, keep it fun” to guide your comments.