Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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 satisfaction from the throngs of thousands lining the course cheering people on “Yo, 8014, yuhrr supah faaaaast. Keep it up, bud!” We all occasionally need other people to be our cheerleaders and root us on. The walking challenge over 100 staff members are participating in now at Norris is a good example of a team support network but it doesn’t have to be that formal. Keep encouraging your friends and colleagues to stay committed to their goals – whether those are fitness goals, education goals, or life goals. You may not know realize it, but it makes a difference.

Happy walking to all those who observed National Walk At Lunch Day Wednesday. We have had several "Run @ Work" days at Norris where we invite staff members to run or walk together on the track. For the earliest part when it's still dark out, we throw on the lights so people can see who they might otherwise run into on the track. And we crank up the tunes on a couple mix CDs that the hardcore devoted runners like Coady and Votta have put together. It doesn't matter whether you are walking or running, it's kind of a neat communal experience on these mornings. The physical activity and cardio benefits are well documented in health lit. We encouraged teachers to participate as a staff wellness initiative in the National Walk At Lunch Day, however they were able to fit that into their day. We had a nice turnout Wednesday morning on a chilly spring day. I extend the best of luck to everyone participating in the Lincoln Half or Full Marathon this weekend. I am doing the half; it's too soon I for me after Boston to run a full again.

Friday, April 16, 2010

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 thanks for your responsiveness. We used to strive at the junior level to have kids plan and plot out what they were shooting for in college and careers. Then we said two years really wasn’t good enough. So we went to four. Now the movement is 6 years. That’s because, I don’t know if you knew this, but apparently India and China are cranking out science and math and engineering graduate students at a rate exponentially higher than the United States and someone figured out that if we could just get our 12 year olds to think more seriously about trigonometry instead of their X Boxes and skateboarding, we would close the gap. So get them to plan, provide evidence of the plan, monitor the plan, and close the international math/science achievement gap!

We have very high expectations for counselors, dare I say even preposterously high. But I don’t see that changing. When I look at your agenda for the day, I am really impressed by the scope of what you address and I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to collaborate with one another and to have the same shamelessly selfish motive I do in conference opportunities: steal the best ideas from elsewhere and claim them as my own!

We look for you to help kids in the personal, social, and academic realms. We expect you to be the experts in test prep, data analysis, developmental needs, so we ask you to do everything from design a testing schedule that works for everyone to being able to shift gears and work with kids who are experiencing extremely traumatic or just developmentally challenging issues in their lives. By the way, you should also be tech wizards so you can keep up on all the latest social networking tools to really know what kids are doing! But you also need to know about cutting, not to mention piercing, tattooing and how to advise parents and their students on these and other topics.

One final note, whatever you need from us today, if you need us to pull some resources we are happy to do that and happy to jump in on any part of the discussion administratively if you want our thoughts. Two areas I could weigh in on would be if you want MAP district perspective I’d be happy to help with that and also regarding twitter, as I think it is an excellent tool with lots of potential for educators.

Monday, April 5, 2010

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 published an article on the Ankeny Board working through some budget cut recommendations. Ankeny is a growing district outside Des Moines. Some key points from this article include:
· The district is in the ironic situation of raising their levy rate while slashing their budget; that’s how far off the state aid has fallen.
· Operational cuts can only assist to a degree; they are using attrition as much as possible to reduce personnel where needed (not replacing those who retire or resign, if possible).
· They are reducing work agreements and involving building principals in deciding how to manage that as it relates to paraprofessionals and support staff (in Iowa lingo that would be an “associate.”)

The Omaha World Herald published Saturday an article on “Bluffs Schools in Tough Spot” that is available at . This article describes how the Council Bluffs district has attempted to reduce costs and has been running down their cash reserves to meet payroll demands. A $5 million budget cut for next year is forcing them to reduce personnel significantly.

The particulars of these local contexts described above need to be considered when examining them, but the general scenario is applicable in that NE will be in the revenue milieu Iowa is in a year from now when the ARRA $ is gone and legislators are confronting a major revenue shortfall.

Don Walton’s column in today’s Journal Star is at and describes our state’s unpalatable options. I appreciate Walton’s suggestion that ‘we the people’ need to be proactive in creating solutions to the shortfall. (He mentions considering heavier taxes on alcohol and tobacco and even the possibility that a tax on sugary sodas could provide some revenue and be consistent with our society’s increasing emphasis on healthy lifestyles and combating obesity). He also states the truism that a blanket rejection of tax increases is the politicians’ easy way out but does not make much more sense than a blanket embracing of tax increases as the answer. The real solution probably lies somewhere in between, where moderate tax increases shoulder the burden with targeted cost reductions. (Or what I would describe as a “shared pain” approach.)

The mood of the articles above is somber to say the least. I am not one for advocating catastrophic thinking, but I also think that remaining blissfully ignorant about the impending issues is dangerously na├»ve. Norris will find ways to manage fiscal challenges while remaining a progressive system with excellent personnel. We will encounter tough choices along the way. Our building principals have already been stringent on communicating to teachers that we need to take on sharp reductions in equipment and supplies expenditures next year to preserve those resources for what’s coming.

We’ll need to enlist the cooperation of all staff and sense of team play in our community as we encounter those tough choices together to preserve the great things Norris has in place and continue to be progressive in areas that positively impact student learning.