Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ACADEMICS are ALWAYS our TOP PRIORITY

We're in the midst of a parent/community/student survey about whether or not to move forward with the potential addition of baseball as a spring sport at YHS. Several of the comments on the survey are geared to us needing to focus more on academics. I get that. Academic opportunities and achievement are always our top priority, although school activities often get much more publicity and attention on social media.

It's just the way it is but your state champion One-Act program is going to get more attention than 4th period biology classes. Your district champion softball team is going to be in the newspaper more than our coding clubs at YES and YMS. More people are going to show up to volleyball, football, wrestling, tennis, and basketball events than they do to see work certification offerings in our business department. That doesn't mean that academics aren't our #1 priority.

I'm not complaining at all because we believe in trying to be the best in academics, fine arts, athletics, and extra-curriculars. That's what York deserves. I am in charge of the YPS Facebook page and Twitter account. When I post pictures and posts on Facebook about academic programming, show kids working hard in math, social studies, or science classes we will get a few comments and likes, which is nice. When we post the results from a soccer game, wrestling invite, or speech tournament, we will get much more attention. It is what it is and that's not unique to York.

Below is a brief rundown of just some of the academic programs we’ve added here in York just over the past few years, while keeping our average annual spending growth at 1.5%. We are ever-changing and improving and need to continue to do so to offer our students as many high quality choices as possible.
• Work certification in irrigation technology and chemical application
• Agronomy Academy and 12 other Career Academies for juniors and seniors to choose from
• Microsoft Office certification
• Animal Science lab and courses at YMS and YHS
• Greenhouse and Plant Science curriculum at YMS and YHS
• Welding and Precision Farming course updates
• Coding Clubs at YES and YMS
• Robotics at YMS and YHS
• Internships at York General Hospital and Truck Center Companies
• Entrepreneurship Academies
• Technical Math at YHS
• Drama Course at YMS
• Tripled our Personal Finance Business course offerings
• Invention Convention and Math Counts Teams at YES and YMS
• Media Productions
• Graphic Design
• Social and Emotional developmental courses at YES
• Reading and Math Strategies courses at YMS and YHS

Rest assured, our primary focus is always on academics.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Random Thoughts about the Legislative Session

Below are just some of my thoughts regarding the important and sometimes, difficult conversations and legislative action taking place in Lincoln. I realize very, very few people care about what some yahoo in York thinks, but here it goes....

1) Adequate and sustainable funding of K-12 education is imperative for the future of Nebraska.

2) Nebraska’s over-reliance on property taxes is NOT a school spending problem, it is a school funding problem.

3) Tax reform which reduces the over-reliance on local property taxes is necessary to balance the tax burden for all Nebraska citizens.

4) The national average of K-12 funding that comes from state sources is 47%, while Nebraska K-12 schools only receive 33% of their funding from state sources.

5) The national average of K-12 funding that comes from local property taxes is 29%, while here in Nebraska, that figure is sky-high at 49% due to our flawed system.

6) “Balancing” the state’s budget by slowing and cutting aid to K-12 schools only serves to increase our state’s over-reliance on local property taxes.

7) For this 2016-17 school year, 170 of the state’s 245 school districts are non-equalized as they receive no equalization aid because the TEEOSA formula says they have enough “local resources” (property taxes) to educate their children.

8) Nebraska’s public schools are producing tremendous outcomes and are the envy of many states. However, we still need to improve every day, every week, every month, and every year!

9) Nebraska’s high school graduation rate is one of the highest in the country and continues to be well-above the national average (88.9%). (Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Common Core of Data)

10) A large percent of Nebraska students take the ACT college entrance exam and score above the national average. With 88% of 11th graders taking the ACT, the average score was 21.5, ranking #1 among the 15+ states where most students take the ACT. (Source: ACT, 2015)

11) 69% of Nebraska high school graduates go to college, ranking 7th for the highest college-going rate nationally (Source: Nebraska Department of Education, 2016).

12) In a time where most seem to thirst for “change,” public schools are doing more with less in an ever-changing environment…career academies, before and after school programming, entrepreneurship offerings, summer enrichment, and so much more…we change and improve each year...

13) Yet challenges remain. Our economy is changing and schools must evolve to create the workforce of the future that will meet the needs of our state’s economy and allow our communities to thrive.

14) Too many of our students are facing a real and growing opportunity gap that our public schools must address to provide a high-quality education for all Nebraska students.

15) We need to expand our offerings of evidence-based strategies to support a high-quality education for all Nebraska children.
-- Early childhood education
-- Expanded learning opportunities
-- Career Education System
-- Nutrition

16) Many of us in the K-12 sector worry about some state leader’s apparent willingness to open the door for the privatization of public education...

17) If our state budget is unable to adequately fund K-12 education as it is, thus forcing school districts to be over-reliant on local property taxes, why would we look to provide state dollars for “school choice” options that don’t have the same levels of transparency and accountability that we have with publicly elected board members, annual audits, assessment requirements, and acceptance of any and all students, and so on?

18) We will hear more and more about "school choice" and how Nebraska must find a way to offer more "choices" when, quite often, what is meant, but not said, is these "choice" leaders want to privatize education to make it into a business....We already have numerous school choice options....according to data from the Nebraska Dept of Education....
-- We have 22,148 students that are using their option enrollment choice this 2016-17 school year
-- We have approximately 8,290 students using their home school choice this 2016-17 school year
-- We have thousands more students using their parochial school choice in numerous communities across the state as well

I wish the state senators the best of luck as they work hard to address the numerous important issues that face our state.





Monday, January 2, 2017

"Nothing"

"To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing" is a famous quote from Elbert Hubbard. I've always loved this saying and used to have it as a tag-line on my emails along with "Talk doesn't cook rice" before I learned of the wonderful world of customized GIF's that jump and down and say "Go Dukes!"

Hubbard's quote is about courage, if you ask me. I think another way to twist his popular saying is that it takes courage to say something, to do something, and to face criticism. It takes bravery to put your neck on the line. It takes "onions" to stand for something. It takes toughness to deal with backlash.

We're at a time in Nebraska where we need all hands on deck to help support public education. We need all school leaders, board members, parents, and patrons to "say something" and "do something" as we battle funding cuts, inaccurate statements from elected officials about the cause of high property taxes, and continued attempts to privatize public education. We need action. We can't afford to say nothing and do nothing or we will be left with nothing as we know it.

As 2017 gets going this week, think about what you are willing and able to do. Think about how much courage you have and what level of risks you're willing to take. January is going to be an extremely important month for education in Nebraska. We need to come together, stay together, and work together to do "something."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Not Everyone has a Merry Christmas

This is typically an awesome week for most of us. We're surrounded by family. We have plenty (too much) to eat. We play games. We laugh. We express gratitude for all we have. We go to church. We drink hot chocolate. We sleep in warm houses. We open too many presents. We are lucky.

As we head into "Christmas Week," I just want everyone to remember that it's NOT a Merry Christmas for all. For way too many, December 25th is just another cruel reminder that they're struggling with very little "hope," if any, at all.

It hurts for me to think that too many of my students won't be helping grandma bake cookies. They won't be sipping hot chocolate with the awesome, little marshmallows while playing board games near a fire. They won't be unwrapping "too many" presents, and maybe not any at all. They won't be sleeping in while in a warm house. They won't enjoy a large and delicious Christmas meal, with leftovers for days. Heck, some of them may not eat at all on Christmas Day.

I don't write about this to bring anyone down. I write about it just to bring some real-life awareness to this issue. I never ask any student what their "favorite Christmas gift was" because some won't get any at all. I also know that too many of our students are dreading Christmas Break. Once our break begins on Wednesday at 2:00, we won't be back in session for 14 full days when we open up again at 8:00 AM on Thursday, January 5th. Too many of our students won't have enough to eat over the next two weeks. They will be in cold apartments and houses. They will be looking forward to January 5th like you can't believe.

If you can, see what you can do to help a student or family in need. We work with lots of different groups and individuals to provide "holiday meals," jackets, games, clothes, and small toys to families we know that need a helping hand. Some students are embarrassed about this so we just drop these things off at their house while they're in school.

I don't want anyone to feel guilty about all you have. I just want you to think about helping others that might not be so fortunate. If you get a lot of new clothes, boots, shoes, etc. this week, consider donating some of your older items to kids that aren't so lucky.

I believe in "HOPE" and I think it is the #1 factor in a child's future success. If a child has "hope" that they can achieve greatness, that they can graduate, that they can become a productive citizen, become an entrepreneur, become a business owner, a fork-lift driver, a farmer, a teacher, a nurse, an electrician, a plumber, whatever.....they can do it. You have to believe it to achieve it and that is where we can all help instill "hope" in others.

Make kids smile. Tell them they can "do it." Help them see that everyone has adversity, everyone has things they wish they could change, and that everyone who works hard can have a bright future.

Have a Merry Christmas and try to help those that won't.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Inspired by our Students

At last night's board meeting, we were lucky enough to have Mrs. Jane Brogan and her Mock Trial Team tell us about their undefeated season and 3rd place finish in state. They even modeled some of their closing arguments, witness redirects, and so on. It was fascinating. I sat there in awe as these kids are just simply amazing. They are such wonderful representatives of their families, our school, and our community. Many of these kids are not only leaders within the Mock Trial Program but also integral parts of our State Champion One-Act Program. They're leaders within golf, tennis, and basketball too. Oh yeah, they make outstanding grades and treat others the way they wish to be treated. They're amazing and I'm glad they're York Dukes.

Everywhere I look, I'm inspired by our students. I got to see an 11th grade JV basketball player make his first basket of the season this past Saturday. The sheer joy on his face and the excited body language he had made my whole weekend.

Last week, I was able to judge some senior portfolios for Ms. Holder's class. I was able to see four great presentations that were all different but all well done. Visiting with each of those students about their plans past high school was so fun. They have lots of energy and enthusiasm to carry out into the "real world."

I've gained inspiration from my students in our After-School Fantasy Football Club at York Middle School. Their creativity and wit and acceptance of each other has been so fun to see.

I always gain inspiration from interacting with our special needs students. Whether I spend some time with them at lunch, visit with them about their recycling jobs, or walk through their classrooms, they are always so proud to show what they're doing. If everyone had their enthusiasm and kind hearts, the world would be a much better place!

Students at York Elementary make me smile just because of their energy level and willingness to learn new things, try new things, and be kind to their classmates in all kinds of situations.

I usually get to visit two to three times a month with one of our students who is having major emotional/psychological issues. I pray for him and his family. I try to make him smile as much as I can. He inspires me because of the battles he faces. Many of us have no idea some of the issues many of our young people are dealing with.

Being around outstanding students is truly inspirational. I will always defend our students and young people. They may spend lots of time on their devices. They might listen to cruddy music. They may not do things the way my generation did them. But, today's young people are amazing.

I really do consider it a blessing to go to work each day in this profession of public education. Our students deserve all of the support, admiration, and guidance we can provide for them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Public Education (as we know it) is Under Attack

First off, this article will talk a lot about the importance of public education. This is in no way a knock against St. Joseph’s Catholic or Emmanuel Faith Lutheran as we have a tremendous working relationship with them and admire and respect what they do and how they do it. I’m writing this piece as someone who loves Nebraska. This is more about the state landscape than just 17-county but make no mistake, it has an impact on every small town in the Cornhusker State.

This article is about putting all of the cards on the table and calling a spade a spade. Public education is under attack in Nebraska. Public education is under attack in the United States. Public education is worth fighting for.

Emanuele Corso wrote in his October 4th blog that “the foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism nor socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, and never has been, before now, about profit. Public education has always been about the development of each child as an individual to the fullest extent of their abilities for the ultimate benefit of society.” However, a few folks seem keenly interested in changing this ideal.

This is about more than the money and the property tax relief we desperately want to provide our patrons. We’re still working at it, believe me, but it is extremely frustrating, to say the least. We’re down to just $225,000 in state equalization aid. We received over $3.7 million a few years ago. We predict we won’t receive any state equalization aid by 2019.

You see, we live in a time right now where not only are we not receiving the funding that we need (that forces an overreliance on local property taxes) but we’re having salt put in the wound by some politicians, think tanks, and organizations that want to push for charter schools, vouchers, and other mechanisms that they promote as “school choice” when, in many instances, they surely mean “for profit” or “exclusive.”

Many of these “school choice advocates” have never stepped foot in a public school. If we’re being perfectly honest, many of them simply don’t want their kids to go to school with “those public school kids.” They do want, in many instances, however, to take public funds away from already under-funded public schools and use that for “special schools” or “exempted tax credits” that don’t have the accountability and same rules to follow that we do. They don’t want to have to accept the $150,000 a year Special Education student. They don’t want to deal with the students and families with emotional disorders. They want the funding and support but none of the responsibility the rest of us have. That’s just plain wrong.

Perhaps these folks are excited about the school funding nightmare. Perhaps they applaud that state aid to schools in 2016-17 increased just .6% over 2015-16. Perhaps they look forward to more flat-line budgets and cuts. Perhaps they support unfunded mandates and the fact that public schools have to do more today than ever before. It seems as if they’re openly rooting for us to fail. Well, they don’t know Nebraska public educators like I do.

Public education is not perfect. We are always a “work in progress.” We have some under-performing employees just like hospitals, restaurants, construction companies, law offices, manufacturing plants, and all other walks of life. We have places across the board to improve in. Just like everyone else. We also have some of the most dynamic professionals you could ever hope to run into.

Public education is often the most important economic development initiative in our communities. We’re often the hub of our communities. Yes, we need to close achievement gaps across numerous disaggregated subgroups. Yes, we need to provide more early childhood offerings for our youngest learners. Yes, we need to increase the number of school-to-career opportunities for our students. Yes, we need money and political support to do so.

Nebraska’s public schools are also doing pretty doggone good! We have one of the highest average ACT scores in the nation for the 17 states that have 80% or more of their students taking it. We have one of the top high school graduation rates in the country. Our young Nebraskans in public schools also excel on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments and perform well above national averages across the board.

Public education is a big business. But, we’re different too. We can’t suspend the night shift when the economy slows down. We can’t close early. We can’t reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. We can’t go to our 1st graders and tell them that due to the economic forecast we won’t be able to teach them how to read or subtract this year. We’re different than Corporate America or even the private sector up and down Main Street all across Nebraska towns.

We live in a time where everyone wants “change.” It’s trendy to want something new, something different than the past. Public schools are CHANGE and we are NEW. We’ve changed so much in the last 15 years, it is unbelievable. Many of us provide programming for 10-11 hours a day. We provide summer offerings. We provide new work certification programming, college credit courses, job shadowing, and more. We offer new opportunities in early childhood, high ability learning, and STEM initiatives. Don’t turn your back on public education because you want “change” and something “new.” That’s who we are and that’s what we do, for ALL students in ALL communities.

We also live in a time where many people in shiny suits like to blame public schools for the state’s property tax crisis. They have mastered half-truths and distorted data. It seems to be part of the larger plan to discredit public education, to play the “blame game,” and open the door for “new opportunities.” It’s a downright shame.

Statewide data from the Department of Education’s website shows us that Nebraska now has over 307,000 public school students. Around 45% of them are living in poverty as they qualify for free/reduced school meals. This has increased by more than 10% since 2004.

ALL of Nebraska’s children deserve our support. Please help us stand for ALL kids in ALL communities with ALL kinds of needs, talents, and issues in ALL public schools.









Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Quotes, Quotes, and More Quotes

I've had a hard time coming up with a topic to blog about this week so I'm just going to share some of my favorite quotes and provide a little back-story to some of them.

1) "If she was a fish, I'd use ears for bait." I love this one from Mickey Andrews down in Tallahassee. I've used this one to describe my lovely wife because she does like to talk quite a bit!

2) "I wouldn't trust him to organize a 2-car parade." I picked this one up from Stan Wilkins in Labette County, KS. It's not a compliment but over the years, I've met a few folks that fall in this category.

3) "Tougher than woodpecker lips." One of my all-time favorites and I sometimes use it to describe my beloved York Dukes. I don't remember where I first heard this but it was back in the early 90's.

4) "You're bringing a water gun to a pistol fight." Ouch...this was often used at my high school by a plethora of football coaches when they didn't feel like you were practicing with enough energy and you wouldn't be prepared for the upcoming game.

5) "Winners are like biscuits....when things heat up, they rise to the occasion." I love this classic from Coach Bobby Bowden. It makes sense in a southern kind of way!

6) "Talk doesn't cook rice." This is my favorite Chinese Proverb. We all know a lot of talkers that don't always get around to actually "doing." I try to severely limit my exposure to these kinds of folks because they drive me crazy.

7) "What you tolerate, you encourage." I often use this quip from Coach Bill Parcells. It makes a lot of sense....if you tolerate something as a leader, in essence, you're encouraging it. You have to be willing and able to step up and not tolerate even the little things that can dilute your organization's culture.

8) "It's the little fish that steal the bait." I never heard this from anyone else but it is something I came up with while in Franklin, NE as superintendent, high school principal, and cheer sponsor (don't ask). We had t-shirts made up and our theme that year was focusing on the little issues...attention to detail, etc.

9) "All winning teams have a comfortable level of discomfort." This is another one from Coach Parcells. Boy, have I found this to be true over the years. Winning teams/organizations have to be willing to have difficult and awkward conversations. We grow the most when uncomfortable.

10) "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." I love this one from Coach Pat Riley. To me, it means that we have to stay focused on what's important. We have to prioritize. We have to stay true to our core values and mission.

11) "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." This one from Elbert Hubbard is so true. It's better to be a person of action and receive criticism than to lack the courage to do anything at all.

12) "A leader is a dealer in hope." I really like this one from Napoleon Bonaporte because I see "HOPE" as such an important ingredient for students, staff, parents, and everyone. Without "hope," we all suffer and can't reach our potential.

13) “It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” I love this one from Coach Bear Bryant. To me, this illustrates the importance of preparation and hard work. Good things happen to people that work hard.

14) "If you want to win, you can't be scared to lose." This one from Coach Jimbo Fisher really hits home. Sometimes, you have to put yourself out there and take some risks. Losses help you appreciate the wins. You have to be brave and bold at times and willing to balance risks/rewards.

15) "Teamwork is what makes common people capable of uncommon results." I love this one from Coach Pat Summitt. She was such a tremendous leader and did a wonderful job of fostering the team atmosphere.

I hope you enjoyed some of these. Have a great week.

GO DUKES!