Looking both ways over school year

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By The Staff

Summer time is in full swing and our kids are taking it a little slower.  At least, they aren’t going to school every day.  Instead of being a slow time for young people, many now are attending camps of all kinds - academic, social, and athletic, vacation bible schools, family vacations, summer reading programs at the library - the list goes on and on.  In most cases, the lazy days of summer are just a myth.  That is certainly the case with your school system.  Though staff members are squeezing in well-earned vacations, time is very short, and there is much to do to open the doors to receive our students on August 11th.

Summer is an appropriate time to take a look back to last year, as well as alert you to some of our goals as a school system for the coming year.  I believe that 2008-2009 was an excellent school year.  I am certain that 2009-2010 will be better.

We have certainly had our share of challenges this past year.  You may recall the major hurricane related power outage, the MRSA outbreak, the threats of swine flu, deep state funding cuts, and a major ice storm.  On top of all this, we have given ourselves some challenges.

Our Board of Education is engaged in a large-scale construction program, replacing three schools, building an additional elementary school, performing major renovations on four more schools, and upgrading the efficiency, comfort, and learning environment of almost all our facilities. 

We have deepened our commitment to job-embedded and teacher led professional development with the near doubling of our instructional coaching group who has helped our teachers achieve real and meaningful instructional improvement through grade level and/or subject specific groups called Professional Learning Communities.  Our administrative leadership, from the superintendent to our assistant principals and counselors is aware that our job is not just to teach, but to make sure that students learn.  There is a difference.  We have to “lead the horse to water”, AND make it drink in order to have really done our job.  

Our teachers have really stepped up - heroically in many cases - to look at specific information on individual students - and then do something about it.   Getting a pretty good average score for a class or school isn’t good enough anymore.  Most schools now have what they refer to as “war rooms.” The rooms have boards with their students’ names on cards placed next to each student’s current performance level in a given subject area.

This allows for a quick, big picture analysis of how a student is progressing.  As a student’s performance improves, that card moves up.  We believe that all students deserve to learn and looking at averages just doesn’t tell us much.

Look at it this way:  The fact that our schools have some exceptionally high-performing students doesn’t help the ones whom we are failing to educate.  If we have data on what each student knows and can do, we can develop strategies and focus resources on making sure that kids learn.  Please understand that we are not yet perfect in this; it is not easy to break long held habits and practices - but we are certainly moving forward and will do so more aggressively as more and more teachers are seeing success.

There are many other things going well; too many to fully discuss in a limited space, but I can report that our safety net programs - dedicated to building bridges and closing gaps - continues to get stronger each year.  The Family Resource / Youth Service Centers, the school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, as well as the staffs of the Middle School Recovery Program, the Teen-Age Parenting Program, Riverview High School, and Day Treatment are all working hard to help our kids deal with circumstances often beyond their control and move past those circumstances to a successful future.

Finally, I have to praise those “teachers without classrooms” that drive our buses, sweep our halls, run our offices, assist with instruction, and serve our meals.  Most go well beyond their job description and make our system a better place by caring for and taking an interest in student success.

For next year, we are pushing forward with existing initiatives.  I’ll repeat that we are not great yet, but we are going to be.  One of Good to Great author Jim Collins’ rules is to keep pushing the flywheel; stay focused on what has proven to work and build momentum until it becomes irresistible and sustainable. We have good people focused on what is right for students.  Yes, like any large organization, we have resisters.  Some are sincere and thought provoking (which is fine), and others who are just less than energetic and would rather curse the dark rather than light a candle (not fine). 

We are going to sharpen our non-negotiable expectations regarding certain instructional methods.  Lessons need to address learning goals, homework needs to be meaningful, and instruction must be engaging.  We know what works in the classroom, the hard part is making sure that every child gets the benefit of that knowledge and that the benefit not be dependent on the luck of a student’s class assignment.

Our Professional Learning Communities will be still better, with a definite focus on analysis of student work and development of remedial strategies and interventions for struggling students.  Finally, we are going to work hard on improving our customer service.  You may be getting some phone calls asking you questions about your experiences and perceptions of our schools.

We want every school and the district office to be welcoming to our community and we want our staff - all of us - to be professional, helpful, pleasant, and enthusiastic in our service to our children and their families.  We employees of the Bullitt County Public Schools have a lot to be thankful for, the greatest of which is that every single day we have the opportunity to improve a child’s life.

Thank you for your continued support for Bullitt County Public Schools.  There will be no sustainable progress without it.