Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Holiday Challenge to You Saline Area Schools Community!

In 2000 a young Haley Joel Osment starred along with Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey in the hit motion picture Pay it Forward. The movie's plot centered around Trevor, (Osment) who is challenged by his 7th grade social studies teacher, (Spacey) to create and implement a plan that that will make the world a better place. Trevor creates a tiered system of goodwill he calls, "Pay It Forward."

Fast forward almost 14 years and I am issuing each member of the Saline Area Schools community a similar Holiday challenge. I am asking you to spend just 5 minutes of your time during the next two weeks to share with me one positive story of a Saline Area Schools employee demonstrating their care, compassion, commitment, competence, communication and dedication toward the children we serve. Your story can be about a teacher, a bus driver, a food service employee, a coach, a custodian, an administrator, etc. - any employee of Saline Area Schools. Please include the name of the employee you are describing, a brief description of the positive contribution they made, (or what makes them special), when it happened and your name, (optional). Send your positive stories to me via e-mail at no later than January 5, 2014.

I will compile the stories and share them with our staff as a gift to them when we return in 2014. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday Season!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Over the past several weeks, I have seen story after story and show after show recounting November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. While I was not yet born, like many Americans I have always been somewhat fascinated by John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy family and their legacy in American politics.

However, this week it isn't the 50th anniversary of his assassination that I found myself focused upon, rather it was a quote by JFK that I stumbled upon that struck a chord with me. Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, please take a moment to reflect upon President Kennedy's quote and remember that actions speak louder than words.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You Are Going to Get Wet...

If you grew up in the Great Lakes State, chances are at one point or another you took swimming lessons. In my case, I've been involved in the process of learning to swim twice in my life - first as a youngster and then later in life as a parent.  As a child, I can remember my dad taking me for my first lessons at the local YMCA pool. While I was never fearful of the water, sometime during my development from a Polliwog to a Guppy to a Minnow I do vividly recall feeling like a sinking rock when I first jumped off the diving board in the deep end of the pool at Bentley HS. Many years later, my wife and I enrolled our own kids in swim lessons here at the Rec Center. Fortunately, they were not fearful of the water either, but both struggled at times to learn new water skills such as laying on their backs or putting their faces in the water for the first time.

Obviously my perspective as a child was much different than it was as a parent. As a child, I was intent on keeping my head above the water and learning new skills, and I placed an enormous amount of trust in my dad to provide support and encouragement. As a parent, I had no concern about my ability to keep my head above water and I knew my wife and I would support and encourage our kids. The instructor's role was and is to provide the information and expertise necessary for all parties to be successful. However, I am keenly aware that in both situations, everyone involved in the process gets wet! The kids get wet. The parents who are there to provide support and encouragement get wet and even the instructor, the expert with all the information gets wet in the process. For most if not all, learning to swim is an experiential process. No amount of reading, studying, talking, watching videos, etc. can replace time spent in the water.

I think about this process when I see a new concept or idea struggling to get off the ground. The natural inclination is often to read, study and discuss an issue from all angles before taking action. Said another way, there is an effort to create the ability to swim before ever hitting the water. However, implementing a new idea or concept is much like learning to swim - the participants must understand the need and be willing to learn, people need to provide support and encouragement and instructors and experts need to be present to provide the information and guidance necessary for success. And, perhaps most importantly, everyone involved needs to be willing to get wet!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rules To Live By

Here in Saline, the students at each of our K-3 elementary schools are given rules to live by.

At Woodland Meadows they have the 3 Bee's:

  • Be respectful
  • Be responsible
  • Be safe
At Pleasant Ridge, the students abide by the Pleasant Ridge High Five:
  • Be polite
  • Be prepared
  • Be safe
  • Be respectful
  • Respond when spoken to
Finally, the students at Harvest live by the Harvest Four. The students are responsible for:
  • What they say
  • What they do
  • How they help
  • How they listen
As adults deal with the stress and pressure that challenges us, it is good to reflect upon the very rules we teach our youngest students. There are some valuable lessons there that apply regardless of age or issue. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Phenomenon of Relative Age

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores the concept of relative age using the 2007 Medicine Hat Ice Hockey Team to illustrate the point. In youth hockey, players are grouped by birth year. On that team, the overwhelming majority of players were born in January, February and March, In fact, in Canadian Junior Hockey, 40% of players will have been born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September and only 10% between October and December. Why is this? In layman's terms, the theory is because they were born shortly after the cutoff date those boys were a bit older, mature and physically developed when they initially tried out for hockey. Over time, this initial advantage creates a situation where those players get placed on better teams, receive better coaching, more practice time, etc. and the initial competitive advantage is multiplied over time.

What does a team from Alberta competing in a Canadian Junior Hockey League have to do with schools? Well, the phenomenon of relative age exists in education as well. While the dates differ slightly from state to state, each state has a minimum age requirement. In Michigan for the 13-14 school year, a child must be 5 years of age on November 1, 2013 to enroll in school. Therefore, children whose birthdays occur in November, December and January will, relative to their peers, be a bit older, more mature and physically developed than a classmate born in September or October.

Why does this matter? Simple. Regardless of what the cutoff date is, (for school or sport) there will always be someone born shortly after the cutoff date who will be older, more mature and physically developed than a classmate / teammate born just before the cutoff date. The challenge for educators is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of what month they are born in. We cannot allow the initial advantages of maturity and development to create a perpetual cycle of more attention, more opportunity and therefore more success through the years. It is our responsibility to ensure that each student achieves his or her maximum potential, regardless of their relative age!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Did You Know?

November 5 is an election day and Saline Area Schools has a proposal on the ballot to renew our operating millage. This is not a new tax, Saline Area Schools has been collecting the same 18 mills since 1994 and passing this millage renewal will allow the District to continue to do so until 2023. In addition, the millage renewal has NO COST IMPACT TO HOMEOWNERS as the millage is not levied against an individual's principal residence.

If the millage is not renewed the district will lose approximately $7.9 million in annual revenue or 15.75% of our annual budget. To put this in real terms, that equates to the approximate cost to operate two of our elementary buildings, (supplies, utilities, teachers, support staff, administrators, etc.).

For further information, including the actual ballot language, please visit the Saline Finance Blog. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Video Game Classrooms

I had an opportunity to hear Preston Swincher, an acclaimed speaker on Gen Y talk today and one particular strand of his talk really struck a chord with me. He recited the quote “Teens who play 5 hours or more of video games per day have difficulty focusing on tasks for long periods of time.” While the audience laughed, he repeated the statement to allow it to sink in, “Teens who play 5 hours or more of video games per day have difficulty focusing on tasks for long periods of time.” Whoever uttered those words surely failed to recognize the irony of that statement.

As educators we should ask ourselves why a teen that can’t sit still for 5 minutes in a classroom can sit in a quiet room for hours at a time without taking time to use the restroom or eat? The answers lie within the design of the games. Here are a few thoughts Preston brought up:
  • Video games tend to be self-paced – players progress from level to level on their own.
  • When a player achieves the objective of each level within a video game, they are rewarded with the next level of the game being unlocked.
  • Should a player fail to achieve the objective of a particular level within a video game, no big deal, they simply play that level again.
  • As players get better at the game, each level gets tougher and tougher.
What if schools could utilize those video game strategies in the classroom? Can we:
  • Create more self-paced educational opportunities for students.
  • Allow achievement and skill mastery rather than a calendar to unlock the next level of education.
  • Allow students to continue trying to master a skill before bulldozing on to the next lesson without them.
  • Challenge students with increased rigor as their skills progress.

If we could find a way to utilize these strategies on a large scale, (and I believe project based learning encompasses many of the required elements) we may just create schools where teens can focus on difficult tasks for long periods of time.            

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

30 Years... Where Has The Time Gone?

This Friday night, as part of the 2013 Homecoming activities, Saline High School will be welcoming back members of the 1983 Hornet Varsity Football Team. The '83 team finished the regular season 9-0, won the SEC title, earned the program's first trip to the MHSAA Playoffs and outscored their opponents an astonishing 257-32. To this day, the 1983 team remains the #1 ranked scoring defense in Saline football history.

As a junior on that squad, much has changed for my teammates and me over the past 30 years. We have gotten married, had children, seen our hairlines recede and waistlines grow. Some of have stayed near Saline while others have scattered around the globe. Many have experienced tremendous successes, some have been challenged with difficult circumstances. What remains constant for all of us are the shared experiences and memories created at Camp Killarney, during practice and especially on those magical Friday nights we got to play in front of the Hornet faithful on what is now called Crabtree Field.

In 1983 we were teenage boys living in the moment, soaking up all that an undefeated season could offer. This Friday, thirty years after we played our last game together, we will have one more opportunity to take the field together as a TEAM on a Homecoming Friday night. Once a Hornet - Always a Hornet!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Courage, Faith and Love

I recently had the opportunity to read a letter Nelba Marquez-Greene wrote to the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary prior to the start of this school year. Marquez-Green's six-year old daughter Ana Grace was one of 20 first-graders killed along with six staff members on December 14, 2012. While waiting to receive word about Ana on that fateful day, Marquez-Greene said that she and her husband made a promise to "face the future with courage, faith and love."

In her letter, she wished the the teachers returning to school those same virtues - courage,  faith and love. Courage to support students who are left out and overlooked. Faith to know that the hard work is having a profound impact on students and a deep love for teaching.

Marquez-Greene concluded her letter to the teachers with the following, "As you begin your school year,  remember Ana Grace. Walk with courage, with faith and with love..."

The complete text of Marquez-Greene's letter to the teachers can be found at:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Voice of the Turtle - Saline Style

For, lo, the winter is past, 
The rain is over and gone; 
The flowers appear on the earth; 
The time of the singing birds has come, 
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. 

Solomon 2:11-12

As a young boy growing up in Michigan, I always looked forward to Ernie Harwell's rendition of the Voice of the Turtle as it signaled not only the end of winter, but more importantly to me, the start of Tigers baseball.

On Tuesday, September 3, more than 6.000 students, teachers, paraeducators, bus drivers, food service employees, buildings and grounds employees, clerical employees, technology employees and administrators will begin a 175 day journey together. Much like the start of baseball season, I hope everyone feels the same sense of excitement and anticipation as I do.

The Voice of School - Saline style:

For, lo, the summer is past, 
The heat and humidity will soon be over and gone; 
Fall colors will transform the landscape; 
The hum of excitement fills the air, 
And the voices of children will be heard in our land. 

Enjoy the 2013-14 school year!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Not-So Secret Ingredient

During the summer months we are fortunate to have time to reflect upon who we are and what we do, develop and refine strategic plans and create action steps to help us achieve our goals. During these discussions we often try to identify key indicators of success - secret ingredients if you will.

In addition, when screening, interviewing and ultimately hiring new TEAM members, (whether bus drivers, cooks, custodians, para educators, teachers, administrators, etc.) we spend a tremendous amount of time trying to identify candidates who will succeed in our organization.

In both strategic planning and hiring, attitude counts. Frankly, attitude counts quite a bit. As Tracey Bates Leone said, "People are either positive or negative, there is no in-between. The in-between people are categorized as negative."

Be positive!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Make The Right Call

January 28, 1986 was like any other day in the life of a college freshman. I had attended class that morning and had returned to my dorm room when I heard that the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up just after it lifted off in Cape Canaveral. It was one of those moments that is forever etched in my memory - where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, etc. all quickly come to mind when I remember that fateful morning.

In the days and months that followed the Challenger explosion, it became increasingly clear that the engineers from Thiokol who had designed the solid rocket boosters had strongly recommended that NASA delay the launch because they feared the unusually cold temperature could cause the synthetic rubber O-rings to fail. If the engineers who designed the rockets were fearful of failure because of the weather conditions, why did NASA launch the Challenger anyway? While there were a great many factors, it appears that external pressure, (both within Thiokol and NASA itself) was the primary driver of the decision to launch that morning.

Ask yourself, what have we learned from the Challenger disaster that we can apply to education today? Do we rush into ill-fated decisions because of external pressure? Does the need to cut cost and generate profit supersede the need to make good, educated decisions? Are experts driving the decisions or are others doing so?

As you may recall, one of the astronauts on that particular Challenger mission was Christa McAuliffe who was to become the first teacher in space. Now, almost 30 years after she lost her life on that mission, perhaps Christa McAuliffe still has some lessons to teach.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Central Casting

A few years ago we received a phone call from my nephew who was vacationing with my brother and sister-in-law in Florida. When I asked him about his visit to Disney World he said, "Uncle Curt, I was just lost in the magic." While I laughed at the time, I must admit that when it comes to Disney, I too find myself lost in magic.

Through the years my wife and I have taken our children to Disney numerous times and I have read about Disney and their powerful culture. Every decision and every detail is purposeful and connected to their mission which says in part, "to be one of the world's leading providers of entertainment and information." Perhaps the area that I have been most fascinated with is their Central Casting Department. You see, Disney does not hire employees, rather they cast for a role. During the casting process, perspective cast members watch a video which explains very clearly Disney's high standards. From what I understand, after watching the video, some decide that being a Disney cast member just isn't for them.

Since school ended in June, Saline Area Schools has been conducting our own version of central casting. We have talked about our high standards and expectations to applicants from New York to Washington and spent countless hours identifying and casting individuals to fill the various roles within our district. The process has been both exhausting and exciting at the same time, yet I am convinced that  if we continue to cast properly we too can continue to be a world leader in education.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Special Construction Crew

The end of the school year marked a time of transition, not only for the graduating seniors of Saline High School but also for a very special group of 17 retirees. 

Twelve teachers, two bus drivers, two paraeducators and the Director of Facilities all retired from Saline Area Schools this past year. That group of 17 individuals had served the students of Saline for a combined total 419 years, (an average of over 24 years). Among the group were eight teachers who had taught for 30 or more years, (including one who had taught for 47) and a bus driver who had driven for 35 years! 

At a retirement reception hosted by the Board of Education, the retirees were given a poem that read:

The Builder

I once saw a group of men tearing a building down,
A group of men in my hometown. 
With a heave and a ho and a mighty yell, 
They swung the beam and the side wall fell. 
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled? 
The kind I would hire if I wanted to build?" 
He laughed and said, "Why no indeed. 
Common labor is all I need. 
For I can tear down in a day or two
What it took the builder ten years to do." 
So I thought to myself as I walked away, 
Which of these roles am I going to play? 
Am I going to tear down as I make my way merrily around? 
Or am I going to build with care with the hope that the people will be glad I was there? 

- Author Unknown

There is no question that each of our retirees "built with care" and we are certainly grateful for each of their contributions over the years! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Follow Mom's Advice

With the myriad of challenges facing schools today, it is easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus. Unfortunately, it has been proven time and time again that this is surely a recipe for failure.

In his fable, "The Boy and the Filberts" Aesop tells the story of a boy who was given the opportunity to pull hazelnuts, (filberts) from a pitcher. Unfortunately, the boy attempts to take such a huge handful of hazelnuts that he cannot remove his hand from the pitcher. The boy became increasingly frustrated as he was unwilling to give up any hazelnuts and yet could not get them out all at once. The boys' mother told him that if he could be satisfied with fewer hazelnuts he could easily pull his hand out, (and perhaps reach back in later and retrieve more hazelnuts at a later time).

What is the lesson here? The Saline Area Schools has no shortage of important goals to achieve. All are important and all are worthy. However, if we attempt to reach all of our goals at the same time, like the boy in Aesop's fable, we too are doomed to fail. Rather we must establish priorities and take action on a limited number of goals at any one time.

Saline Area Schools has engaged our staff, administrators and the community at-large during the past few months in a very important strategic planning process. Hundreds of man-hours have been devoted to this process and the Strategic Framework that has been created represents the smaller handful of hazelnuts we must pull from our jar in the coming months and years so that we may continue to successfully serve and meet the needs of our students.

The Strategic Framework will be presented to the Board of Education at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, April 23.

Friday, March 1, 2013

21st Century Classroom

As a school district, we are talking more and more about developing the four C's of 21st century learning in our students - creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. While not necessarily heady concepts, moving from concept to execution tends to be easier said than done.

In schools, we tend to provide explicit directions for almost every assignment - do you remember hearing instructions like, "work independently and quietly. Please print clearly on plain white sheet of paper. Place your name and date in the upper right hand corner. This material is covered in chapter 12, pages 120-128." How much room is left for creativity? For collaboration? For communication? For critical thinking?

A 21st century classroom looks very different than the classroom of yesterday. No longer is it always quiet and calm.  It can be noisy and vibrant. Students move around. Students often work together in groups. The problems the students are being asked to solve are age appropriate yet complex. The classroom of today is one in transition with the goal of developing more creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration in our students.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

History & Tradition

In his book "Bo's Lasting Lessons," author John Bacon quotes Bo as saying, "The history of your organization is one of your greatest strengths, and if you're new to the organization, it's your job to learn it, to respect it and to teach it to the people coming up in your company."

As a school district, Saline Area Schools has a rich tradition of academic, athletic and extra-curricular success. We offer our students a deep and broad range of opportunities and, as Bo said, it is our responsibility to ensure the people joining our organization understand this tradition of opportunity and success.

However, it is also our responsibility to continue to seek ways to better serve our students, to better prepare them for life beyond high school. It is not only the need to respect our traditions, but also the never-ending quest build upon them and get better that will benefit our students for years to come.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Believing Before Seeing

DeWitt Jones is a professional photographer and motion picture director who spent over 20 years as a photo journalist with National Geographic. In the era of digital photography, where people can point and click endlessly until they take a good picture, what separates Jones from all others? In a word, it is his VISION.

Jones said, "When I was growing up, I used to hold the maxim - I won't believe it until I see it. Yet the more I shot for Geographic the more I realized I had it backwards. The way it really works is I won't see it until I believe it. That's the way life works."

Think about those words for a minute. "I won't see it until I believe it."

In education, (and in all walks of life I suppose) we often talk about change. I suggest that there is no value in changing education - the goal is to IMPROVE education! If we want to see improvement in education, we must believe.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lucky 13 - My Resolutions

For 466 students at Saline High School, 13 is their lucky number. It has been worn on varsity jackets and sweatshirts, dangled on tassels and held a place in the yearbook since they were in kindergarten. For those 466 students, 2013 represents the year of their graduation. As the parents of a member of the Saline High School Class of 2013, my wife and I are very aware of our daughter's excitement about graduation and the uneasy feeling that accompanies the thought of her leaving home. 

While I have never been a fan of New Year's resolutions, this year I commit to the following: 
  • I will express gratitude to her teachers and coaches for the role they've played in her life. All the experiences, (good and bad) have helped develop her character and resilience. 
  • I will let her experience both success and failure on her own - she is much more capable and independent than I may be ready to admit. 
  • When she does need me, I will be there to support my daughter while she solves her own problems and handles her own issues. 
  • I will remain aware and grateful that there are 465 other students at Saline High School going through this journey with her - many of them have been an important part of her life. 
  • I will accept what is rather than what could have or should have been. 
  • I will savor each and every experience she has during her last few months of high school as a part of the growth and maturation process. 
  • I will continue to be her biggest fan.
  • I will continue to enjoy and be proud of the young woman she has become!
What is your New Year's resolution?