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Showing posts from 2011

The Best Runs of 2011 - trails, teams, and marathons

2011 is almost over.  Personally, it was a great year for running: no debilitating injuries that kept me from pounding the pavement and I am getting better at staying the course, keeping my commitment to myself to keep moving, and living the discipline of going the distance and trying to log miles to stay marathon-ready.  I averaged 40 miles per week over the last year.

So, with the end of another year approaching, here it is, the long-awaited, much-anticipated list of this year's best runs according to my own totally subjective opinion!  (If that's not enough of a disclaimer I'll  also note that I am most decidedly not an elite runner and I have the privilege of being sponsored by: no one.)

First of all, let's be clear about the criteria.  To have the audacity to call these the "Best Runs of 2011" is a bit presumptuous, admittedly.  I didn't run every run out there.  But of those road races and trail runs I did have the privilege of participating in thi…

Comments at Building A Healthier Future Summit

The conference was held November 29 and 30 in Washington, DC. It was sponsored by the Partnership For A Healthier America and I spoke in the Healthy Schools strand on behalf of the Alliance For A Healthier Generation. 

I am John Skretta, Norris superintendent.  To give you some idea of our context so you know where I'm coming from, we are a district of over 2,000 students in southeast Nebraska just south of our capitol city, Lincoln.  We are a consolidated district that draws from numerous surrounding small towns, and we are growing in student enrollment every year.  We are a combination rural and suburban district.

Our demographics are that we have 15% free and reduced lunch participation and we have 10% special education. Like a lot of schools, we have seen an increase in those numbers in recent years.

To our district, in the context of our discussion today, one of the most important thing for schools to do is realize that students' health and also the wellbeing of…

Why build, why now? The three "N"s rationale for Norris building project

The Board of Education has determined that a bond issue will be before the Norris district in March, 2012.  The plan will call for a new grades 3, 4, 5 elementary school to be located just northwest of the existing middle school.

I have had many people ask me for my opinion about the issue and the timing of the request.  It is well known that Norris, just like the vast majority of districts across the state, underwent a budget cut in state aid last spring. While the Nebraska economy has remained relatively strong, we are still emerging from a recession and the economy is still in recovery mode.

With that said, it is actually an ideal time for Norris to move forward with a building project.

The rationale is quite simple.  There are three bases for it.

#1: The Need:

Our current Elementary school is at capacity.  We were already at 95% capacity when DLR and Olsson Associates completed a site development study on behalf of the district in 2008.  We haven't gotten any smaller since then…

Comments to @norris160 teachers on technology integration

This morning Tech Director Noel Erskine and Network Administrator Jim McConnell hosted an ad hoc committee to engage in strategic planning and professional development preparation for further technology integration.  Here were some of the topics, areas of interest, and needs identified:


Clickers Prezi Blogging with Google sites Google forms Google sites Advanced Google forms with self-grading quizzes Review game web sites. Sessions on web resources for specific curricular strands or grade levels Paperless classroom workflow and setup. Smartpen (Livescribe)
Technology needs: More computer availability More Clickers
One comment I would offer is in follow-up to Rick's comments about the need for more computers, which I think was widely re-affirmed. Dr. Brandt and Shari seemed ecstatic to learn that a cart of netbooks will be rolling their way soon.
This summer we had the opportunity as members of the admin team to meet with Scott McLeod and discuss tech integration at the Administrators'…

The best advice Baker ever gave me

Today is Roy Baker's birthday.  Dr. Baker was a great school leader who shepherded the Norris District through unprecedented growth and helped us come roaring back when a tornado decimated our campus.  More importantly to me, Roy is a friend and a mentor.

The best advice Baker ever gave me?  I'll share it with you:

"I don't care what somebody else says the message is.  The only thing that matters is what the message is based upon your actions."

Stay focused on results!

Baker's always done that.  He's wired that way.  I spoke with him this afternoon to wish him a happy b-day, asked what he was up to.  I had heard he'd been doing well in a local golf league paired up with Gary DeBoer.  Baker growled, "We actually lost today so we're going to get second."

No prizes for second and "Good is the enemy of great."  Keep striving and stay focused on results.

Happy Birthday, Doc.

Really simple advice from the Sup for our new teachers

When I say it's really simple, what I mean by that is that it's very easy for me to dispense advice.  Adhering to it could prove challenging!  But here are a few basic lessons to contemplate as you embark upon your teaching career at Norris:

Gratitude is the right attitude.  We are privileged to be in education and to have the opportunity to work with young people.  It is a wonderfully inspiring life to be an educator.  Be thankful you get to live this challenging and rewarding adventure!  We all have moments where the gratitude slips and the cynicism spikes, but let's not let those fleeting moments define us. The compassionate response is usually the correct one.  Students will frustrate you.  Their behaviors will perplex and annoy you.  And some of them, well, you'll find their limit-testing behaviors downright annoying.  The punitive reaction, though, will seldom bring about the results you really want.  If you're really about promoting positive relationships and…

Fitnessgram: A great tech tool for assessing student health & fitness in schools

For Leadership Day 2011, educational leaders have been invited to blog about whatever we like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc.  What a cool idea!  It's a great invite to push and promote these resources with one another.  Info on this is available at @mccleod's "Calling all bloggers!" post at

I'd like to tell you about Fitnessgram and encourage your school to consider adoption of this tech tool.  One of the things I am most passionate about as an educator is the connection between health and academic achievement.  Ever since I read my Maslow in my early Ed Psych courses as a pre-service teacher, the correlation resonated.  I realized there is a profound simplicity and truth in prioritizing health, safety, and belonging needs and that doing so in education is essential if we want students to be able to perform complex cognitive tasks.  Simply p…

10 Web Resources to Galvanize Your School’s Commitment to Coordinated School Health

There are many ways and many resources, but here are some external resources I’ve found helpful and hope you do, too: Nebraska statewide Coordinated School Health Policy, adopted March, 2010 For A Healthy Lincoln offers resources including national and local trend data on the obesity epidemic. steps from the Let’s Move! campaign to assist schools. alternatives to the traditional ‘junk food as reward’ classroom celebrations offered by the CT Department of Education. from the Partnership for a Healthier America about the Chefs Move! To Schools campaign to place visiting chefs in schools to help educate children about healthy eating.

Cherish our freedom to learn

Happy Fourth of July!

Though it is still not something we do frequently enough, it is common on Independence Day to recognize the commitments of those who serve in our Armed Forces to protect the freedoms we hold so dearly.  That is an appropriate gesture, and one of the things our Norris school community is very proud of are the many students who have made the choice to serve our country as soldiers.  We must  also recognize that numerous Norris families have endured great hardships over the last several years as parents of our students have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The resilience and cohesiveness of these families is inspiring, and we should all continue to do our part to encircle those affected by deployments in the broader family of our district and reach out to them.

Another facet of freedom that is appropriate to contemplate on the July 4 holiday is the impact teachers have on helping a democracy flourish.  Unless we are free to learn, to inquire, to challenge one…

What Gil Scott-Heron meant to me

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of poet and spoken-word artist Gil Scott-Heron.  What Gil Scott-Heron's amazing poetry meant to me was that poems could inspire peoples' social consciousness and raise their awareness.  And that they could do so in a way that was really cool!  I could respond aesthetically and emotionally - and even politically - to the words of an African American voice whose life and life experiences were very different from my own.  I am someone who grew up in a fairly homogeneous small-town rural culture in southeast Iowa and then Nebraska.  Reading Gil Scott-Heron's poetry and listening to his rhymes made me stretch outside the boundaries of that culture to realize bigger connections in the social fabric of American life.

With his passing, many of the most influential voices of hip hop and rap have come forward to celebrate Scott-Heron's legacy as they themselves (artists ranging from Chuck D to Eminem) see their art as appreciating and…

Gorging on test scores & starving for meaningful health & fitness data

This afternoon I attended the NE Medical Association's Childhood Health / Obesity policy group meeting.  The group is comprised of various public health advocates - doctors, registered dietitians, nutritionists, and educators, among others - who are working together to propose helpful solutions and policy-level impact in combating obesity.  Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and the CDC has labeled it accordingly.

The obesity epidemic is real locally, too, and thousands of Nebraskans are affected by it.  Our district is similar to most across the state and we have between 20 & 30% of our students per grade level who are highly overweight or obese.  The health consequences are dire and schools do have a role in this.  We have students with us for a good portion of the day during the school year and for many kids, a majority of calories consumed on those days are at school.  Schools need to promote physical activity for a lifetime and nutrition literacy.  School…

Testimony to NE Legislature in support of Children's Health Advisory Committee LB125

[I testified at Legislative hearing 2-10-11 in favor of the bill because I believe it would further Coordinated School Health. NDE, NCSA, School Boards' Association were neutral.  Dr. Karla Lester of Teach A Kid To Fish, Dr. Bob Rauner, and others also testified in support, representing NE Dietitians and American Heart Association and others. Text of my testimony today.]
Good afternoon, Senators, distinguished committee members, my name is John Skretta and that is spelled J-O-H-N S-K-R-E-T-T-A. I am testifying in support of LB 125. I am a doctor but in the interest of total disclosure, I confess I am not a medical doctor but merely a doc of Education so I'll leave the dispensing of actual medical advice to Rauner and Lester and those inescapable pharmaceutical ads on TV!
I am the Superintendent of the Norris School District . As an administrator at Norris, I have had the privilege to promote our schools’ attempts to deliberately integrate physical activity during the student…

Techno-Poppin': From Droppin' Office To Cloud Floating

We have made some bold moves with Technology recently in the Norris School district and I would anticipate a few more are coming.  I commend Noel Erskine, Tech Director, and Jim McConnell, Network Administrator, in this process.  What we are demonstrating in this process is a phenomenon one Norris Board member has described as being "on the bleeding edge."  The point is that in times of fiscal constraints and when resources are slim, it is important to take an innovative approach and figure out where resources can be conserved to maintain an innovative edge while providing comparable utility and functionality with technology - and other resources, too.  Managing costs does not mean minimizing results.  We have thought differently and innovated to provide a more prosperous tech environment for students and staff while actually saving resources.

We took an underutilized space in our district and converted it to a student lab.  The underutilized space? The Norris Board room.  W…