Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nebraska - No Charter Schools Needed

Nebraska remains one of the few states in this great nation that has not yet succumbed to the charter school movement. However, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes that most Nebraskans are simply unaware of. The “far right” minded folks in our state are working feverishly to propose new charter legislation. The far right is also hand-picking state senator candidates that are keeping secret their wishes to discredit and undermine Nebraska public education so they can usher in charter schools. It's pretty scary. This is going on right now and most are oblivious to it.

Nebraska’s public schools are some of the best in the nation. Whether you look at graduation rates, average ACT scores, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Nebraska ranks as one of the top 12 states in the entire country in numerous categories. With that being said, Nebraska’s public schools need to improve just like any other organization does. There is always something to do better.

Like all states, Nebraska does have some low-performing schools. Not surprising to anyone in the educational profession, these lower performing schools have an extremely high rate of poverty. What can charter schools do differently for children living in extreme poverty that public schools aren’t already doing?

On April 26th, an organization sent some tweets to me because they didn’t like my blog, “Why I am Opposed to Charter Schools in Nebraska.” We tweeted back and forth for a little while that evening. Two tweets they sent to me really stood out as they said…

1) “Don’t live in denial of reality, there are kids struggling who need other options.”

2) “The opposition (to charter schools) won’t be remembered kindly in history.”

In regards to #1 above, I totally understand there are kids struggling. I see them every day. We work with them, and their families, all of the time. We provide extra services for them all year long. We provide educational services, counseling, clothing, food, toothpaste, and numerous other things most people have no idea about. What other options are out there for these strugglers? Again, if the far right charter school supporters have all the answers on how to “fix” struggling kids, most of which live in extreme poverty, shouldn’t they be obligated to share the solution?

In regards to #2, I don’t do my job worrying about whether or not I will be remembered kindly. I oppose charter schools because they aren’t better than public schools, they don’t play by the same rules as public schools, and the way the far right in Nebraska is going about them is just plain wrong and deceptive.

I chose to get into education because I love working with kids. I began as a 3rd grade teacher. Education is my passion. I think about my students and my job 365 days a year like thousands of other dedicated educators in Nebraska.

I’m truly perplexed by those that want to push for charter schools. I am reaching out for answers...please help me understand.

1) If charter schools are so wonderful (even though there is tons of data that show they are less effective than public schools), why don’t we all become charter schools?

2) Do charter schools serve ALL students? The ones with severe physical, emotional, and learning disabilities?

3) Do charter schools use the same funding mechanisms as public schools?

4) If so, do they have the same level of accountability?

5) Are charter schools governed by a locally elected board of education or a group of far right strategists? Do they hold open board meetings?

6) What do charter schools provide that public schools don’t?

I hate to sound like a broken record but I worry about Nebraska's future. Are we going to stand by and let the far right manipulate their way into the charter school movement? Nebraskans should know better.

Monday, May 16, 2016

YPS Responds to Unisex Bathroom Guidelines

Reports and guidelines coming out of Washington, D.C. this past Friday have created lots of discussion regarding transgender issues and school bathrooms in our country. We now feel it is necessary to respond so our students, staff, parents, patrons, and guests know how we will handle this.

York Public Schools has always worked hard to accommodate the wide array of needs and civil rights of all of our students, staff, parents, patrons, and guests and that will not change. We respect the needs, wishes, and beliefs of all we come in contact with.

With that being said, we will NOT be allowing unisex bathroom use in any of our facilities at any time. We will continue to ensure that our female and male students get to use gender specific bathrooms. We have a private, “family style” restroom at YHS and private, individual user staff restrooms at YES and YMS that can be utilized by those that are uncomfortable in either the men’s or women’s restrooms. We won’t be spending any money to create additional bathroom choices.

While this approach may not perfectly align with the “guidelines” that our Federal Government provided on May 13th, we feel it is a very appropriate and safe approach that is in the best interest of all of our students, staff, parents, patrons, and guests.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Walk Down Memory Lane....

I've spent a little bit of time this spring reflecting on the past seven years in York. It's amazing how fast the time has gone. As I prepare for the next seven years, I wanted to look back and think about 2009-10 when I first came to town. It seems like a lifetime ago. The year, and especially that summer, were a blur.

Here are the "notes" I used for the 1st ever staff meeting I held in York. It was fun for me to go back and think about where we were at that time, where we are now, and where we need to get to through more improvement and dedication.

From August 2009....

• I’ve looked forward to this day for a long, long time. It’s great to be a York Duke and to join all of the talent and commitment in this room.

• So glad this morning has gotten off to a good start. Thanks to the district office and food service staff for getting the breakfast coordinated. I had nightmares all summer I was going to be like this guy I found on Youtube.

• As your new superintendent, I really want to stress the importance of the TEAM CONCEPT. Regardless of what your job title is - your performance and your attitude impact over 1,200 students, 200+ co-workers, and our entire community on a daily basis. Embrace that accountability. No one person or employee group is more important than another. We ALL must bring our “A game” every day because we get to impact KIDS. We get to help shape the future. Whether you drive kids on buses, feed them lunch, teach them, coach them, tutor them, or clean up after them – we get to help lead them in the right direction. It is an honor to be trusted with such responsibility!

o Be a POSITIVE INFLUENCE on our TEAM...NASA Motto: “This is the team. We’re trying to go to the moon. If you can’t put someone up, please don’t put them down.”

• We’re dealing with some adversity here right now
o Budget constraints, low morale, declining enrollment, staff cuts/changes, etc.
 22 staff members left and were replaced by 9 newcomers
 16 staff members were re-assigned and/or transferred
o “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
o This is a HUGE year for our school system. We need everyone to step up like the professionals they are. Let’s be thankful we all HAVE jobs and get to show over the next 10 months how good we are at what we do. Maybe we’re not working in the building or assignment we prefer. Maybe we didn’t get a raise like we wanted. Maybe your new superintendent is a lot uglier in person than you first thought. Don’t get caught up in all of that! Life is too short not to be POSITIVE. Every second we waste complaining and griping eats into our time on earth to be a positive difference maker.

o “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

• CHANGE is DIFFICULT…overcoming the dreaded “TWWADI”

The Way We’ve Always Done It

This story begins with a cage containing five healthy apes. In the cage hung a banana on a string with stairs under it. Before too long, one of the apes went to the stairs and began climbing up to capture the banana. As soon as he touched the stairs, all of the apes were violently sprayed with ice cold water by a trainer standing nearby. After a while, another ape made an attempt up the stairs to reach the banana. Again, as soon as he touched the stairs, all the apes were viciously sprayed with ice cold water.

Pretty soon, when another ape tried to climb the stairs, the other four apes beat him and prevented him from getting close to the stairs. They did not want to be sprayed with ice cold water again!

The next day, one ape was removed from the cage and replaced with a new one. The new ape sees the banana and tries to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other apes attack him. After another attempt (and attack) 10 minutes later, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs to obtain the banana, he will be assaulted but he is not sure as to the actual reason. The other four do not want to be sprayed with ice cold water!

The following day, a second ape was removed and replaced with another new one. The newcomer immediately goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the attack with enthusiasm even though he has no idea why he is doing it.

On the third day, another ape is removed and replaced with a new one. There are now two “old ones” and three “newcomers.” This new ape goes to the stairs and is attacked violently by the other four. Two of the apes attacking the newcomer have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape.

After replacing the fourth and fifth “original” apes on the next two consecutive days, all of the apes which had been sprayed with the cold water had been replaced. Nevertheless, no ape ever again approached the stairs even though they were never sprayed with cold water as a deterrent.

There are reasons we have some things that we don’t change. We need to sometimes believe in the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” because it seems that all too often, especially in public education, we are overanxious to change things that don’t need to be changed. A lot of things here have been going very well for decades. Some things need to continue to be improved.

It is good, however, to look at things from time to time and analyze why we do what we do and if there are ways we could do it better. All successful people and teams do this and should continue to do so.

As you analyze your role within our team, and your relationship with your teammates/colleagues, keep in mind there is always more than one way to get something done. Have confidence in what you do and how you do it, but try to be supportive if others do things in a different manner. None of us are completely alike and that is a good thing. Don’t be afraid to try new things, to improve something you have done for a while, etc.

We all bring different background experiences, expectations, etc. to work each day and that helps us become a well-rounded staff.

Don’t do something a certain way just because your predecessor did it that way. Make your own identity. Be a “difference maker” in your own way!
I’m not trying to be Terry Kenealy or Paul Toms. I have to be Mike Lucas. Time will tell whether or not that is enough for what YPS needs at this time. I’m not going to change things just to change them. If we do make some changes, they will be well thought out and communicated to you and implemented to simply do what we think is best for our students and YPS in general.
o We will enter the 2009-10 fiscal year with a “line of credit debt” in the neighborhood of $900,000+ so that will obviously eat into our 2009-10 receipts as we pay off the line of credit whenever we can to avoid interest accrual

o You will get lots of communication from me about our budget throughout the year with regular updates, projections, etc.
o Enthusiasm, Passion, Creativity, Professionalism, Pride in Performance, being Student-Focused, and being POSITIVE don’t cost a nickel – we can ALL do that!
o Getting our budget turned around will take a good 3-4 years but we’ll get it done

• Operation Code Name “3E” (Energy Efficiency Excellence)
o E-mail sent to you over the summer
 Already paying some dividends
o Make it a goal to conserve our energy and reduce our utility costs
o We’ll be checking up on this monthly and we CAN and NEED to save as close to $30,000 as we can…classroom thermostats, gym lights, etc. all add up
o Custodians have been great about climate control settings and “occupied” and “non-occupied” times
o Challenge yourself and your students to conserve as much energy as we can
 Turn off lights
 Adjust thermostats
 Monitor our gyms and auditorium to make sure we’re not keeping those lit up and climate controlled when we don’t have to

• Project “MULE” (Maximize Use of Large Expenditures)
o Let’s make sure we’re using the heck out of the stuff we’re lucky enough to have
 Smartboards, projector screens, and all of the neat software and teaching tools we’ve invested in need to be used a lot to benefit our students

• District-wide focuses for 2009-10
o “What’s best for kids”
 This is our mantra, this is our product, this is why we’re here
 Now, more than ever, students need us
 What’s best for kids isn’t always what’s best for adults…
o Professional Development and School Improvement goals
 We’re going to be focusing on instruction and curriculum and moving forward as part of an effective K-12 effort
 Schedule and goals for Wednesday afternoons and In-Service Days will be ironed out and communicated soon
 We’re going to get back to more of a “Curriculum Committee” approach that has been used here in the past as I will be involving myself with our Curriculum Chairs and Grade Level Coordinators several times a year

o Technology Committee
 Day-to-Day maintenance and “fixing”
• Building principals will be addressing that this week so EVERYONE knows who to turn to when something needs to be fixed
 Visionary leadership and planning so we have the equipment, training, and ability to ENGAGE our digital learners
• A lot of people in this room have said we’ve fallen behind in technology so that is something we need to improve….we need to get more “stuff” but more importantly, we need to make sure our staff is trained well on the “stuff” so it can greatly benefit our students and we will get this accomplished over the next few years with some great improvements made in 2009-10!
• TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION across the curriculum is a must…
o WHAT we teach as far as the fundamentals, etc. is not the issue but HOW we teach it is what we need to continually monitor and that is where TECH INTEGRATION comes into play
• http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=12272

o Communication and PR
 Making sure our staff gets communicated with
 Open Door Policy
 Getting re-connected with our community
 Promoting all of the great things we’ll be accomplishing

o Follow Through with a sense of Urgency
 We’re going to get things done and check up on them to make sure it’s working like we thought it would or should
 Eliminate the “well, you know, we talked about that one time but I can’t remember what we decided…”
• We’re adopting a GID mentality (Get It Done)
• Most of you will appreciate this – some of you will be driven crazy by this but it’s what we’re going to do
• Fast-paced, up tempo…not putting off to tomorrow what we can do right now

o Having all employees embrace “accountability” and “high expectations”
 Personal pride about personal performance
 The true character of a person is what they do when nobody is watching or listening

• We’re ROLE MODELS and LEADERS for our students and within our entire community
o We must empower ourselves and others to get better
o We must support risk-taking and the possibility of short-term failure to achieve long-term success
o Never underestimate yourself, your colleagues, or your students…
 We’re not just working with students for today…what we say and do and how we say and do it can have a lasting impact on the students we get to work with…
• We all have examples of positive and negative impacts our teachers, coaches, and school staff had on us when we were in school
• REMEMBER that even the most challenging students we work with are still someone’s baby….someone’s pride and joy…someone’s legacy….act accordingly at all times

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBWFg8s1m1U (Great Failures)

• Your feedback will always be appreciated!
o This job creates many challenges because there are numerous things that need some attention…I’m a human being and I want to be “liked” and “appreciated” by as many people as possible but please understand the numerous duties of this job and the current needs of this district don’t allow me to worry about a popularity contest but to stay focused on moving us forward in a financially sound way
 Colored paper cutbacks, sticking to work agreements, limiting overtime, etc. are not things I came in here excited about doing but they need to be done and the superintendent has to make sure it happens
o Decisions I make will upset you from time to time – it’s not personal…there’s just a lot that needs to be done…………….
 I’m a big boy and I have lots of “thick skin” – when you get mad at me, please be mad at ME…not the board, not the other administrators, not my family….ME
 I never wake up and say, “hey, things are going pretty good – I think I will intentionally upset a lot of my staff today”
 My performance objectives for 2009-10 will be established by the board of education tonight. I will share those with you before the end of the month and every employee will have an opportunity to evaluate my performance this year (probably in February or March)
o Every person on earth is a “work in progress” and we should all value feedback on how we’re doing whenever we get the chance to receive it

• “CONTROL WHAT YOU CONTROL” – (Our theme and motto for this year)
o Worry about your individual commitment to the team. Focus on what YOU can do to make YPS a great place for kids. Don’t worry about the budget or what “so and so” should or should not be doing. Control your attitude and your commitment level and your performance and help make those around you better.
o Focus on WHAT we do offer, how often we offer it, etc. Don’t dwell on what we used to offer, when we offered it, etc.
o Enjoy the voyage that began at 7:45 this morning….we’re headed back to the top of the heap in Class B and it starts right here, right now!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Class of 2016

The YHS Class of 2016 is down to their final few days at good 'ol York High. It's been a pleasure to watch them mature and grow over the past seven years. When I came to town, they were just entering 6th grade. I've been lucky to see them turn into wonderful young adults that we're proud to celebrate.

The Class of 2016 has been wildly successful in the classroom as well as in school activities. It will be exciting to see what they go on and do in the "real world." They are certainly set up for success.

One of the great parts about my job is that I get to know a lot of the families of our students as well and we have some tremendous ones within this class. It's a diverse class full of lots of different characters but they seem to get along well and take care of each other for the most part.

I hope they know how much we care about them and how excited we are for their bright futures. I hope they know they are "Forever a Duke" and part of a strong tradition and legacy at YHS. I hope they know they are welcome to come back any time and let us know how they're doing.

I hope they know they will be missed.