School District News with Twinkle Morton, Chair of School Board
In August, the School Board held a retreat-we did the normal amount of housekeeping things and worked on issues that are facing or will/could soon face the district. One of the many important things we did was discuss the difference between what the Board does and what the Superintendent does. I get many comments and letters that suggest that some of you will benefit from hearing what we did with this and seeing the difference.
It comes down to something far too simple in one way: The Board decides WHAT needs to be done and the Superintendent decides HOW it will be achieved. So that is the footprint and here are the particulars.
The Board supervises and evaluates the Superintendent’s job performance. In addition, early in the year [August] the vision and the goals are firmed up and put on paper. Through the year, the board works on policies, the budget, monitors progress toward goals, advocates for staff, the community and the students. Another thing that the Board does is approves contracts that are evaluated and negotiated through the Superintendent.
The Superintendent hires and trains the staff while developing action plans to best serve the students in the district. The Superintendent deals with regulations [federal, state and local] while maintaining a close eye on the expenditures. The Superintendent is the biggest advocate for the district and for the staff and students and is responsible for employee relations, negotiating contracts and evaluations of all staff. Another duty is reporting progress toward board goals and bringing any potential issues to the board for their preparation.
This is all very simplistically put but basically these are the duties the Board and the Superintendent perform for you. I am hoping over the next few years to continue the increase in interest in serving on the Board. Our last election saw four people vying for the one open position. All of the candidates were eager to serve our community, and I hope that as positions open up and at the next election people will step up and run. You do not need to wait for an open position!!!
I would like to share with you some of the ways I keep in touch other than attending all the board meetings. I read our local paper. The Fern Ridge Review is an inexpensive weekly paper that will keep you up-to-date on the goings on within the district and sports as well as many other important pieces of community information. I subscribe as it is way cheaper than paying 75 cents each week and more importantly, I often forget to pick it up. It is mailed to my home for $34 a year-a savings of $5-and I don’t ‘forget’ to pick it up. The reason I am suggesting you subscribe is local papers such as yours offer you a chance to be in the know and to, more importantly, have a voice. There was a strong article in the September 5, 2017 paper on the back page that explains that very well. You can read it here: www.fernridge.k12.or.us/tmorton/2017/09/07
Strong local reporters such as Scottie Barnes, Edie Moro, Michelle Ossowski, Joan Mariner, and Sandra Larson report on happenings within our community and reporters from nearby report on their areas as well. Walton is represented by DW Northey and Lorane by Pat Edwards. There are occasional updates from the School Board Chair [me] and a place for letters from YOU. So please consider being more informed and getting more active in your community. Your future property values and children/grandchildren’s futures depend on it.
I want to let you know that I am now posting events at the different schools on my Twitter account which is dedicated to announcing our school events [mostly-I admit occasionally I sneak in something that effects education.] you can find me on Twitter @TAMnOregon Follow me and get regular reminders of events in your community schools.
I leave you with this thought from Aristotle: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. We hear many ideas and other thoughts…..consider wisely. As always, this video for thoughts on glacier melt www.cbsnews.com
Please continue to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read my articles-maybe even follow me on Twitter @TamnOregon. I hope to reach new readers so share with your friends and loved ones. Until next time-
The School District’s Vision and Goals
Life sends us on interesting trips through different venues as we determine what is important, and I am being schooled by the best- at this time in my life. I am more and more aware of the things that are important in each facet of my life because of a medical issue. This column is one of the things important to me; my goal is to reach out and address questions that my community has about the school district’s vision and goals. I fear I may have been misunderstood when I indicated a willingness to answer questions. Maybe it is a phase I am going through, but the few questions I have received are not always about board business…they are more about the micromanaging of the administration and personnel issues.
So far, few have asked about the districts vision or how our goals this year support that vision. More are beginning to recognize our attempts to develop effective two- way communication with parents, students, staff and community members, and a few have given us feedback. No one seems to be concerned about cultural diversity or equitable policies which provide equal educational opportunities for all members of our educational community. At least one person asked for more detail on how we plan to monitor our progress towards the goals or commented on how effective, efficient, orderly and respectful the board meetings are or aren’t.
The board’s primary responsibility is setting district goals and monitoring the progress towards achieving those goals. We recognize and protect the chain of command while receiving input from the staff in decision making on significant issues where staff input is appropriate. We have high expectations throughout the district and our focus is on curriculum, student achievement and student success.
We seek to build the best possible leadership for the school system and the community. Commitment to quality, excellence, continuous learning, and local control of the educational system is important to us, and we seek to lead by example. In an effort to move the district into less paper and more online information, the new website will have connections to various reports and information that the community can access at any time. In addition, the board has been loaned tablets to use in the school board meetings and in other business during our tenure. Few people realize how much time we spend on the computer reading OSBA bulletins, newspaper and legislative reports, budgetary information, policy questions, facility update information, etc. In addition, I hope that the next printers purchased for the district office will be ones that allow printing on both sides of the paper once again to conserve resources. Yes, these are little steps but life starts with the first step- and we are moving forward. Let’s continue to focus our energies into doing positive things for our kids and staff.
So please- send me questions. I will do my best to either send it on or address your question in the next column. I leave you with a quote by the poet William Butler Yates which seems to be very appropriate for this column. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The board is modeling open communication and utilizing 21st century skills… help us light that fire.
Collaboration: A 21st Century Skill Needed By Us All
A thoughtful parent asked “What do we need to do to gain trust of each other?” I thought it was particularly insightful as it did not place blame or focus on any point of view because in reality, we ALL are here because of our children in the district. As we prepare the children for a life in the 21st and 22nd century, it occurred to me that the best thing we might do is model the behaviors we seek to teach them in the classroom for life. One such skill is collaboration.
First of all, to gain and become accomplished at this skill, people utilize the ability to work effectively with diverse groups. First thing to do would be to determine the common goal that we all have, and then through discussion and by making necessary compromises seek to reach that goal. I ‘think’ I hear the goal of the parents who have been so helpful by coming to the board meetings and sharing their concerns. I ‘think’ I hear the goal of the administrators who work daily with many of our nearly 1,400 students who have shared their concerns. Each of the diverse groups wants to be treated with respect while helping the individual child becoming the very best s/he can be. That may too simply put, but it covers much of what I have heard. For this article and I hope for the future board meetings, this can be a basis for doing the much needed work to keep making our district the very best it can be. We have one of the top rated high schools in the state which has even been recognized nationally. Most of the kids who attend our high school have attended one of our fine elementary schools and our middle school. We have much to be proud of, and we can, through collaboration reach that ‘trust’ that we all seek.
For the sake of this column, let us work from this goal. Each of the diverse groups wants to be treated with respect while helping the individual child becoming the very best s/he can be. The next collaborative skill we need to model for our children and students is clear communication. Not the kind of communication seeking to blame or pass judgment on someone but the kind that brings thoughts and ideas effectively whether using oral, written or nonverbal skills. In addition, we must model listening skills to actually hear the meaning and the intentions of the speaker. Without anger and judgment, these things will be much easier to actually hear and to do something with. Clear communication has a wide range of purposes. In some cases, it can list the things that need to be done to keep school records accurate and complete. In other cases, it might be used to motivate someone to do something- to make a change- to support an idea. Still in others situations, clear communication will help us gain the perspective needed to move toward a win-win situation where no one loses and our children win.
As we communicate clearly, avoiding pointing fingers or having judgment, we will begin to see the other person’s perspective a little more clearly. In an article I read about collaboration for something I put together several years ago, this is called “intersubjectivity”. We all have a strong voice, and when we listen without judgment or accusation, we are impacted by the other voices, and we come to understand the ‘other’ and see both sides of an issue. By working respectfully with each other, we will be able to reach our goal. Yes, we may need to be flexible and make necessary compromises to reach our goal, but by assuming a shared responsibility for our children, it can and will be done. Each of the people who contribute is a valuable team member. Each parent and each administrator is an important component of the machine that makes a strong, caring school district that educates the children of our engaged community. Working together, we can reach our goal and accomplish so much more.
As an aside, I was sad to hear someone say that “There is no such thing as a Win-Win- someone has to lose.” I believe that regurgitating the story of what is rather than speaking more of how you really want your life to be, creates more of what is. By working together to reach our goal, we create a jumping off place for so much more for our district. Win-win merely means that the outcome is advantageous or satisfactory to all parties involved. The kind of competition that creates a winner and a loser is unnecessary when we are working toward a common goal.
I leave this column with a quote from one of my favorite poets, Rabindranath Tagore- the first Nobel Prize Winner from India- a poet, philosopher, playwright, artist and musician. He said so wisely and appropriately for this column “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
Common Core State Standards
Question 1: What is common core anyway and what does it mean to me?
Answer: I want to thank you for this question because it caused me to do some much needed research into the area to be confident I am doing my best to address the question. For a clearer picture of this, I went to the Oregon Department of Education website. I confirmed that Common Core State Standards [CCSS] are merely a list of expectations for students in math, English, and Language Arts by grade. They were developed by people from throughout the state who are educators, content experts, and parents. These expectations are intended to get our students ready for the 21st Century world by providing the skills and the knowledge needed for success in either or both college or careers. States vary somewhat in the way these are developed and implemented but the goal is the same: Prepare our children for success in life.
Question 2: So are these meant to fit every child because mine already knows some of the things supposedly in their grade?
Answer: CCSS is a set of guidelines. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents will decide how to create ways to meet the standards. For example, if you have a child in grade three, one of the core standards is: “Developing understanding of multiplication and division and strategies for multiplication and division within 100.” That is a standard to be met- how our teacher helps our children reach that is up to him or her. So the teacher tailors it to the student and knows which skills must be emphasized to help our students reach their maximum preparedness for life in the 21st Century.
Question 3: Basically, why should I care about this shift in standards?
Answer: Hopefully, you aren’t entertaining a move to another state but if you do, there is a strong likelihood that your child will be well prepared to enter the school in your chosen state. Since these are developed utilizing worldwide ideas from other high achieving countries, our students should graduate ready for careers or education in the current times.
Made Up Question 4: Why should school boards care about CCSS?
Answer: First and foremost, we want to support our teachers in continuing to give high quality instruction all the while building on the already high marks the Fern Ridge District receives in comparison to other schools in Oregon. Through this process of support, we will be increasing global competitiveness while providing an attempt at consistency across the country. Perhaps equally important is that by supporting these core concepts we will be building on what is currently working in our schools while supporting the Oregon Diploma which integrates the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and mathematical practice. We must be concerned with 21st Century skills and jobs. While stressing English and math, the important skill of literacy, in all subjects, better prepares our students for their future.
So I hope I have answered some of your questions. My parting thought is from Anatole France the French Poet. An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.