Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Enjoying the PL Journey!

On April 5, 2017 several staff members visited the Eastern Carver County Public School District to see their personalized learning in action. As we continue our own journey for creating a system where personalized learning is created, we felt it would be best to see it in action. The day was filled with rich learning that has informed our journey.

Before we get too far, let's define personalized learning with a Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton twist. We believe that personalized learning in our district is defined in the following way: Providing students with what they need, when they need it and how they need it. Although that may seem like a logical practice, systemically it has not been possible.

In the the mid eighteen hundreds, Horace Mann brought our current system of education to the United States from Prussia. During the Industrial Revolution, this system made a lot of sense. The educational system has not evolved with the times because we were all simply used to "doing school" and were comfortable.

Enter the sense of urgency! Our world is changing at a much faster pace than what we are used to or comfortable with. If we are going to prepare our students for their futures, we need to begin changing the way we do business in education. Historically speaking, personalized learning was not possible due to the inability to scale it. With the access to the technology we have today, we can make this happen for our students.

A transition to personalized learning is not for the fainthearted. On the 13th of April our staff will engage in a district wide conversation about implementation. They will also split into elementary and high school teams to discuss relevance and action steps for implementation in their areas. Our hope is that each area comes away with an initial plan of action.

In closing, it is important to note that this will be a journey for our district and that there are sure to be tweaks and adjustments along the way. In education we cannot expect a final product as we are ever evolving as are our students. Let's enjoy the journey!

For one example of what is already taking place at the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District, please check out the video below (https://goo.gl/ZImfZs).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Beauty of a Community

Sweet! The title of this article got you to click on it. So, now that you are here, I encourage you to read ahead. While we are talking about community as defined by Merriam-Webster, I shall provide said definition.

"A unified body of individuals: such as, the people of common interests living in a particular area."

It is quite clear the common interest of those living in the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District and beyond is the school district. People from all over donated silent auction items and other outstanding door prizes for our Bulldog Night Out (#bulldognightout). Attendance of supporters at this event was humbling. I, personally, couldn't be more proud to lead this district. In addition, I am thankful my own children attend a district filled full of outstanding educators and supportive adults.

A special shout out goes to the Bulldog Backers. What an amazing group of volunteers lead by President Holly Oliver. As a district, we are overjoyed by the commitment of this group of supporters. These folks put in a lot of time to ensure Bulldog Night Out was an absolute success. To put it boldly the event was a paramount success!

Here is a rundown of all the activities involved in our special Bulldog Night Out.
  • Silent Auction Items
  • Raffle for Jewelry
  • Pick of the Litter Raffle
  • Entertainment - Which many of our staff members provided through music and comedy.
  • Beverage Tasting
  • Appetizers
  • Collection of Monetary Donations
  • Securing a Venue and Date
There are so many people to thank for this event that I won't attempt to do so in fear of forgetting someone. With that said, thank you to those that organized the event, donated in some way, provided entertainment and came to support the event. You are all amazing and make JWP a beautiful community.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Where are we going?

School districts throughout the United States work consistently to develop strategic plans to provide direction for their learning organizations. Typically there are diverse stakeholders involved in the development of said plans. Our district participated in this process about five years ago and we landed on a great product that includes our current mission statement.

"Our district will empower learning, energize achievement and enhance community. Excellence without excuse."

As a result of this work, our school district has made positive progress in several areas. With anything, there are still areas of concern and we are honed in on problem solving. We want to increase our achievement results in all areas and improve graduation rates. This district is full of committed professionals that are improving their professional practice to enhance student learning.

We have this process down and have mastered our oversight of the plan. However, we are missing one important piece of the puzzle and I cannot believe we overlooked it. Thanks to my good friend Dennis Laumeyer, superintendent of the Benson Public School District, the puzzle piece was found. We don't have any strategic directions over our activities programming. This work will begin soon.

Our activities programs allow our students to participate in things they are passionate about and to learn lifelong skills that they do not learn in the academic arena. I firmly believe that we should have a plan in place that works to improve our overall programming in this area. So, what's the game plan?

I recently contacted Bruce Miles of the Big River Group to discuss an effective process to gather input and ideas to develop a plan. He is working on getting me pricing. From that point, we'll give the go ahead to our Activities Director to begin this work with the assistance of the Big River Group. We are excited to provide direction to the overall activities program!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Recent Call to Action

Every now and again you're pitched a curveball with very little time to respond. On Tuesday, March 7th school districts across Minnesota were provided information that recent long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) legislation could be in jeopardy. Thankfully, this curveball was hit out of the park.

LTFM was provided in recent legislation as a way to equalize facilities funding. This new revenue stream has provided districts like Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton the ability to address ongoing facilities issues. As many of our constituents are aware, we will set out to address major safety concerns on our athletic facilities utilizing this funding source. As you might imagine, talk of eliminating LTFM drew major concerns from this school district.

In a call to action, we are asked to contact our legislatures to explain the impact to our school district. The following communication was sent to local legislatures and legislative leaders.

First and foremost, thank you for the work you do on behalf of Minnesotans each and everyday. I realize you folks have a difficult job ahead of you and appreciate your willingness to listen to the people of Minnesota. Your work is sincerely appreciated.

It has been brought to my attention that House leaders are considering cutting Long Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) revenue in preliminary budget plans. This may or may not be accurate. With that said, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District along with many other districts in rural MN would be negatively impacted by this action.

I can only speak for my school district. We have waited for many years to address maintenance problems in the school district due to the lack of funding for such issues. We were NOT going to cut from the classroom to make repairs and improvements. With the passage of LTFM our district was provided the opportunity to make these repairs and breathe a sigh of relief.

We are one of those districts that have bonded to pay for work that will be completed this spring. The revenue generated from the LTFM would be used to pay off the bond over a period of years. The JWP School District does not receive any equalization aid from the State due to current legislation. All revenue generated comes directly from our local taxpayers. With that said, we had our truth in taxation meeting in December with max authority being approved. Our taxpayers received their statements of the impact of this levy in advance. We had zero constituents in attendance voicing concerns.

I urge all of you to consider the negative impact this will have on school districts and students. Please do not consider eliminating LTFM or capping it. We are thankful for LTFM and our students and community will benefit from our improvements.

In closing, thank you for listening and all that you do for Minnesotans. Best of luck throughout the remainder of this legislative session.

As a result of unified communication from school districts throughout the state, our legislatures have informed advocacy groups that they are no longer considering negative adjustments to LTFM. This Call to Action was a success! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Athletic Facilities Explained

Small communities are great places to live and raise a family. Back in the early 1970's residents of the Janesville Community worked together to develop an athletic complex for the students of the then, Janesville Public School District. These athletic facilities have provided excellent opportunities for our students over the past 45 years. It is now time for the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District to conduct repairs and improvements to this area. There have been several questions asked by district residents over the past few months regarding this. Please review the questions and answers below. Should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Bill Adams at the contact information listed at the end of this article.

Drainage Issues
Proposed Concept

How is the district paying for this?

1. With the passage of the operating levy in the fall of 2011, costs of operating the school district were secured. During this time, the school board has worked diligently to be fiscally responsible in expenditure and revenue planning in an effort to pay for repairs and upgrades.

2. The State Legislature came out with a Long Term Facilities Levy (LTFM) recently that allows for school districts to levy dollars to complete repairs on facilities. This authority will be utilized as a way to pay for needed repairs.

3. Lease Purchase for additional learning space is an authority that can be utilized to provide additional learning space. The improved and upgraded facilities can be used for education purposes in physical education, health, outdoor education, and in many other areas.

When does the 1998 bond fall off?

The 1998 bond is set to fall off after the 2017 tax year. Therefore, 2018 tax statements should reflect a decrease in taxes collected from the local school district. With that being said, the impact will be dependent on the value of each property.  

Why are you installing turf?

Several discussions regarding grass or turf took place throughout the past five years. In the end, the school board decided on turf surface for the following reasons:

- The utilization of the football field and softball field was taken into consideration. Due to the outstanding drainage of this surface, the football and softball fields can be used as soon as the ground thaws or when it stops raining. This will allow for fewer events being rescheduled and extreme maintenance needs reduced.
- The utilization of school facilities has increased significantly throughout the years. With the installation of turf, we will be able to allow usage of these facilities on a consistent basis. Physical education courses, junior high football through senior high football, youth football, and so on.
- Cost savings in maintenance, irrigation, weed control, paint, and other areas are realized with a turf surface as opposed to grass.
- Income possibilities are realized as the facility can be rented to other interested parties. We have already received interest from the Region to host a section football final. The district hopes to host conference and section track meets in the future. The possibility of soccer events played on this field is also present. 

If the school is spending this money, why are they in need of renewing the operating levy in the fall of 2018?

The operating levy that was passed in the fall of 2011 is for operating expenses. In essence, this money pays for day to day expenses from teaching and learning to electricity. The school district depends on this allocation of finances to operate. The school board has worked diligently to be fiscally responsible in expenditure and revenue planning in an effort to pay for repairs and upgrades. In addition, we will be utilizing finances from Long Term Facilities Maintenance and Lease Purchase authority provided through the State of Minnesota. These funds are specific to facility repairs and additional classroom space and cannot be utilized for operating expenses. 

Aren't more injuries caused on turf fields than grass fields?

No, that is not true. There have been various studies conducted on this very issue. In some studies, it is stated that turf fields do cause more injuries where in others it is argued the exact opposite. A study conducted by Dr. Michael C. Meyers of the Department of Health and Human Development at Montana State University has confirmed that Field Turf is safer than natural grass sports surfaces. Specific information regarding this study can be found via this link: https://goo.gl/odlMWk

What type of shoes do people have to wear on the turf fields?

Those participating on the turf surface can wear tennis shoes or their normal cleats. If a team that is visiting the new field does not have a turf field, they can wear their normal cleats to play the game. There are no special foot attire required.

Are the soils acceptable to complete work in the designated area?

This is still a work in progress. We have had several soil borings completed over the past month. Some of those borings showed outstanding areas to work on while others did not. The school board will continue to meet to discuss options in this area. At this point, there will be revisions made to ensure we can move forward with the project. What we can positively state is that no additional dollars will be spent beyond what was budgeted. Therefore, changes in scope and scale of the project may be revised.

As stated at this beginning of this Q&A, should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Bill Adams at badams@isd2835.org or 507.231.7770.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Risk is Worth the Reward

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone? Professional development can be a Ben Stein experience from the famous movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Although school districts don't intentionally bore their staff, it happens. As an administrative team we often reflect on our practice after a professional development opportunity occurs and often come to the conclusion that there has to be a better way. Most recently we engaged in conversation about our upcoming professional development day. It was during this conversation that we decided to embark on a new way of doing business. Enter #EdCamp!
Image borrowed from ILEOhio.org
Edcamp is an unconference format in which professional development opportunities or conversations are created during the first 20-30 minutes of the experience. Essentially the agenda is a blank slate and the participants in the process fill it to capacity with their own areas of interest and passion. Here is a picture of our completed board.

Our sessions included topics, such as, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Creative Lessons, Scratch, Google Classroom, YouTube, Workload Management, Benefits, Blogging, Retirement Planning, BreakoutEDU, and others. Our facilitators included experts in the areas, staff members and students. The student involvement was neat to see. I was very proud of their willingness to come in and facilitate sessions on Snapchat and Scratch. The inclusion of students in the process was a great decision and they will most definitely be included in future Edcamps.

A collage of photos...
When we made a decision to go the Edcamp route for professional development, we knew we were taking a risk. As the Edcamp took place, it became instantly evident that the JWP staff was appreciative of this new format. At the conclusion of the event staff members completed a survey regarding their experience. 90% of staff members either agreed or strongly agreed that the Edcamp was time well spent. 10% of staff members were neutral in regards to the same question. Overall, I would consider that a success. When asked, here is what staff members said about their experience.

"The EdCamp was relevant to what I wanted to learn!"
"I got to learn more about topics I had little knowledge of, and also got to participate in discussions and throw my own ideas out for others."
"We had choices to PD so it was meaningful and useful to me."

The goal in professional development is to improve practice. The Edcamp process allowed staff members to seek out opportunities to improve in areas of need. A traditional process would have been a one size fits all approach. As we continue to shift our educational setting to providing more personalized learning opportunities for students, we felt the administration should probably model that approach. Edcamp was a risk that paid off! Thankfully, no Ben Stein experience here...

To check out our Edcamp, click here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

FAIL isn't what you think...

Image borrowed from Gustav Gous Blog
Okay. So here it goes. Every year at the TIES Conference I leave with brilliant new ideas and a brain filled beyond capacity (albeit I leave with great food for the brain). This year's experience is no different except for the fact that I have been able to identify an epic fail in my leadership and my understanding of innovation.

I consider myself to be a pretty progressive leader that tends to look for the absolute best ways to educate students. Although this perception of myself could be entirely incorrect, I am pretty proud of my techy knowledge and application. Over the past five years, I have consistently promoted and supported JWP staff in being technologically innovative. After all, we are preparing our students for the 21st century and beyond.

Having the opportunity to listen to Eric Schneider (@Eric21cLead) and Tammi Wilkens (@tlwilktech) talk about innovation has caused my mindset to make a shift in understanding and leading innovation. Throw on top of this my completed readings of Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad) and The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros). To top everything off, I also had the opportunity to hear Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) speak.  The blending of innovation, technology, and enjoyment have created a unique recipe. Quite frankly, I believe this recipe would make the Chef Gordon Ramsey of education smile!

So my mind has been stirring quite rapidly since these thoughts have converged in my brain. What can we do differently to ignite passion and learning in our students? Essentially, what can we do as a united school district and community to make this happen? There are some guiding questions, with some tweaks from pretty amazing innovators to consider as we refine our educational opportunities here at JWP that we need to answer. However, before we do that we need to define some things.

The first thing we need to define is innovation. If I were to ask you what that is, many of you would define it as including some form of technology. Truth be told, innovation does not necessarily mean the utilization of technology. In this case, it simply means doing things differently. Can we identify the one or many different pedagogical (the method and practice of teaching) ideas that will improve learning and the process of learning for students? When you think innovation, you should not have any restraints on possibilities or ideas. Let them flow. Brainstorm. Innovate!

Secondly, let's talk technology. The elephant in the room is the extent to which technology should be used. Yes, technology is the present and future and we need students to be exposed to it but it should not be considered the end all, be all of teaching and learning. Yet, it should be considered as an important vehicle for innovation. As stated in, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow, Today, nearly 50% of all jobs today include technology skills and within the decade, they predict 77% of jobs will require technology skills (https://goo.gl/OJpl2W). Therefore, it is imperative that we provide students with device agnostic opportunities to learn. They need to be prepared.

Lastly, lets talk ignite, spark, joy, and passion. When given choices in life as adults on things to study, do, and engage in, we tend to gravitate toward things we enjoy. For some of you, it may be golfing and for others it might be sudokus. The bottom line...we all find joy in different adventures. We need to identify these passions and ignite learning in a variety of ways.

The above defining pieces provide us with these guiding questions:

1. Have we asked the students what they need, how they need it and when they need it? "It" being learning.
2. Have we (teachers) asked ourselves, "Would we like to be a student in our classroom today?" ~ Posed by George Couros Have we answered that honestly?
3. Question two revised a bit, "Would we (administrators and board members) want to be an employee in the system we have created?"
4. Are we allowing teachers the autonomy to make professional decisions about what is best for each individual child? Are we supporting their innovation?
5. Are we truly working with students to identify their joys in life? Are we igniting their learning and providing links to learning via their passions?
6. As a district, what can we do to enhance learning with innovation? Remember, that doesn't necessarily mean with technology.
7. What are we doing to involve all stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, school board, parents, community, business, etc...) in innovation development?
8. Are we advocating at the state and federal level for educational reform that allows for innovation?
9. What can we do in our own school district to completely transform our system?
10. Are we ready to take risks and revise?

Now that my epic fail is out of the way, let's innovate and personalize education!