Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The End is Near

I guess that's kind of an ominous title to a blog entry! Actually, I am referring to the end of the first semester and the calendar year! This is our first attempt at putting together a school calendar that has the first semester end before Winter Break. We knew that once it came to semester tests, weather was going to be an concern, and thus we have kept our fingers crossed that we would not lose a day in this last week. As I write this, we have a late start today, forcing us to shorten up the testing periods. Not what we had hoped, but it could have been worse. The lesson learned is that we may want to make a few adjustments in the schedule next year to be in better shape in case we do have a late start.

While this is the first year for this calendar at North Fayette, I have worked with one like it for a number of years. What I do know is that December feels very stressed, but once we finish and everyone goes on break, it is over. There is a huge relief because we don't have to come back and finish up a semester. And, students will perform better on exams rather than getting away from school for two weeks and then be expected to prep for a big test. People are refreshed after the break and once they get back, it is nice to start a new semester.

So, the end is near! And the beauty of this is that in just a couple of weeks, we have a new beginning!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Drinking and Drugs and the Reality of Kids Using Them

I haven’t focused previously on the topic of teenage alcohol or drug use in large part because it is a topic that gets a lot of attention elsewhere, and because quite honestly, I am tired of people giving the problem little more than lip-service. Do we have a problem with alcohol and other drugs at North Fayette High School? Absolutely! We have about 300 students and statistically, we have students that use and abuse alcohol and other drugs. I am not going to condemn or scold. What I want to focus on is a newspaper article from the Des Moines Register that I have been dragging around since November 21 by Rekha Basu. I don’t always agree with her position on issues, but I must say I learned a lot from her article on this day, and have re-read it a few times.

There was a lot to the article that I think is relevant. For example, brain research, which has shed a great deal of light on learning, has also opened our eyes to a number of other things as well. What we now know for certain is that an adolescent brain, since it is still developing, reacts much differently to drug use than an adult brain. Thus, a 15-year old that starts drinking is five times more likely to become addicted than a 21-year old. Young adolescents are “wired” differently and the developing brain is more susceptible to this kind of stimulus. Is your 15-year old drinking? If so, are you prepared to have an alcoholic in your family because you don’t step in and do something about it? Basu attended a conference for journalists in San Diego focused on addiction studies and came away from it with a firm belief that the longer we keep kids away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, the better. Just a few years of brain development makes a world of difference and this is one of those instances when we must as parents do everything we can to convince our kids that they can wait, and perhaps save their life.

Addiction is a tough thing, and if the likelihood that we will be addicted increases dramatically based on when we start using a substance, then as parents shouldn’t we pay very close attention to what our kids are doing? Let me demonstrate. I started chewing tobacco when I was in fourth grade. I didn’t chew snuff as my preference was leaf tobacco. My parents were aware of it, and actually I started because my dad started using smokeless tobacco to wean himself from cigarettes. Anyway, when I finally quit, it was after so many attempts that I cannot count. It has been almost three years since my last chaw of Redman, but just this week I had a craving and fought going to the store and buying a pouch. I can imagine what it is like for smokers and drinkers. My point, and the research supports it, is that I was nine or ten years old when I started chewing tobacco. Had I not started until later in my life, perhaps I would not have become an addict. Think about that with children in high school that start drinking at such a young age. Lives are severely damaged due to alcohol and drug use. What might your child’s life be like if you talk to them regularly and take a tough stand against the use of alcohol and drugs. Maybe they will live a long and fulfilling life.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Is 99.9% Good Enough?

A lot has been said over the years in high schools about high expectations, usually accompanied by comments along the lines of how grades today are inflated and the quality of student work isn’t what it once was. I know a number of veteran teachers feel that way, but when one steps back, perhaps there is a lot more to the conversation than what is on the top layer. From my own background, growing up I was always challenged to do my very best. I can still hear my mom tell me “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” My dad did a lot of work as a professor with Deming’s focus on total quality and continuous improvement. All this takes me to a list that I pull out every so often to put in front of people when the conversation turns to effort and quality.

In most schools, grading scales are generally somewhere along the lines of 90% and above an A, 80% for a B, and so on. In this scale, 60% is good enough to pass. Now I have real issues with traditional grading, which is something I will address at length in future posts, but regardless of that, can we be satisfied with 60 out of 100 being good enough? Well, let’s take a look at that, and just to make it interesting, let’s look a little higher. How about 99.9 times out of 100? If we get it right than many times, shouldn’t that be good enough? Let’s see!

If we “settle” for 99.9% accuracy, that would mean:
• 22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
• 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day.
• 107 incorrect medical procedures would be performed each day.
• Two airliner landings each day at O’Hare Airport would be unsafe.
• 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
• Southwest Airlines would have 702 planes crash annually.
• 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written this year.
• 32,000 missed heartbeats per person per year.
• 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly during the year.

So, should we allow our students to settle for 60% correct as a passing grade? I would argue “No!” From my perspective, it isn’t so much about what individuals are capable of doing, and it really doesn’t matter in terms of a grade. What it is about is self-respect and pride; a willingness to do one’s best. I think that is the difference between our current generation and one’s in the past. There needs to be a focus on doing one’s best rather than enough to get by. Otherwise, is it worth doing?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans Day => It’s A Wonderful Life!

As I watched a bit of the matinee for our schools Veteran’s Day program, a coincidence occurred to me. In the same auditorium on the same day, our students were gathered to pay tribute to our nation’s veterans as well as to watch a matinee performance of our fall production of It’s a Wonderful Life. The coincidence? One does not come without the other. In this great nation we live in, we in fact live a wonderful life due to the men and women who fought for it. The irony that both programs took place in the same room within a few hours of each other caused me to reflect a great deal on our current status in the world. It troubles me at times that we have thousands of soldiers deployed in harms way, yet it is often quite easy to forget that we are a nation at war. It is like we have decided to go on with life and let those folks do what they do. I know it can’t be that way for the families of those men and women. It makes me question how we can be so focused on issues like getting rid of judges in our state, fighting over issues related to tolerance, and pointing fingers across the isle at one another in Congress, yet soldiers are placing their lives on the line every day and many of us hardly seem to notice. I remember the body counts announced every night during Vietnam, and while I am sure no one wants to return to that time, it makes me wonder why we are not more focused on the faces of those that serve. Yes, we live a wonderful life, but I think it is imperative that we constantly keep in mind those that have given it to us.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Brain Matters

Three years ago I attended a general session at the NASSP National Convention that featured Daniel Pink as the keynote speaker. I have referenced him in other posts and strongly encourage you to read his two most recent books Drive and A Whole New Mind. In each of those he addresses how he sees us moving ahead in the future and how we will need to interact in the American economy if the United States is to remain the leading nation in the world. I have included a clip that features Pink on how we need to look differently at how we train individuals to be contributors in our new global economy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It’s a Wonderful Life!

Not only the title of the play our students will be performing this fall, but I have to believe that it is one of the codes that Julianne Meyer, our play director lives by. She overflows with enthusiasm and passion whenever you engage her in conversation about students and education, as well as any of the multitudes of interests that she has. What will strike you when you meet her, and get to know her a little bit, is the optimism she expresses. That coupled with a very quick wit and one cannot help but fell comfortable that their child has her for a teacher. And there are also those wonderful colloquialisms that flow naturally from her in conversations!

Mrs. Meyer is not new to the high school, as she has worked as a paraprofessional prior to being hired to teach in our special education program. She has also been involved in our theatre and speech programs as an assistant, providing a great deal of support and guidance for our students. She brings a perspective to our program that is different from most new teachers as she is, how should we say it, more “mature” than most rookie teachers. It is my opinion that this is a huge advantage for the students. Mrs. Meyer is not the first “non-traditional” teacher that I have had the pleasure to hire. It seems to me that their life experiences bring a knowledge base to the classroom that twenty-something teachers simply have not had the opportunity to learn.

With all her responsibilities, I know at times she believes that she is in the middle of a hurricane. Special education teachers have responsibilities that go far beyond those of their colleagues in other content areas. The paperwork is excessive, and the preparation time to meet the individual needs of their students can take a tremendous amount of time. Throw in the fact that she is directing her first major production at N.F.H.S. and you have a very busy lady, not to mention the fact that she is a mom and spouse and has all of those things going on in her life! But, I bet if you ask her, she wouldn’t have it any other way! Yes, it is a wonderful life!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Strike Up The Band!

In the process of interviewing Mr. Ted Schacherer for our band position at North Fayette High School, one of the questions that I asked was “what will be your first halftime show?” His response surprised me a little bit as I had expected every young director with a liking of marching band to have that “dream show” that he or she had thought through night after night when they struggled to sleep. However, I didn’t get an answer like that. Rather, he responded, “Geez, I would have to get to know my band and their capabilities before I can make that determination.” Right there, I knew we had the right guy. He did share what his program at Tri-Center was last year, but this was a young director that was going to come in and see what he had, rather than force something preconceived. The analogy is the basketball coach that designs his offense or defense based on the abilities of his players, rather than force a specific type on them because that is his preference. His answer was one of an individual who has years more experience!

Mr. Schacherer joins us from western Iowa, teaching a year at Tri-Center Community Schools. For those of you unfamiliar with my old Western Iowa Conference stomping grounds, Tri-Center’s school is located right along Interstate 80 out in the country, and is made up of the towns of Neola, Persia, Minden, Beebeetown, and the surrounding rural areas. Why they didn’t call it Quad-Center, I don’t know! Anyway, he was there one year after graduating from Luther College and attending high school in Knoxville. From my South Central Conference days, Knoxville was a strong rival of my former Chariton Chargers! I guess when you have been as many places as I have, you can lay claim to all kinds of connections!

The band program at North Fayette is off to a flying start with Mr. Schacherer. He is enthusiastic and has hit the ground running. Students have already learned a lot of new things, particularly aspects of marching band. He has been able to build on the outstanding program Mr. Greg James has built over the years and is adding something new. The halftime program is “Journey,” and when you watch and listen, people from my generation can reminisce about that incredible voice of Steven Perry and those high school dances when if you got lucky, there was at least one girl left to dance to “Open Arms” with. A lot has to go into building a marching band, and you can see some of those initial steps being taken. Though he doesn’t have them roll-stepping yet, the band is starting to get comfortable showing a little of that “swagger” that marching bands have in their performance. They are taking it one step at a time (pun intended)! We are excited to have Mr. Schacherer leading our instrumental music program and look forward to an outstanding future!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Future of Farming/Agriculture

“I believe in the future of farming, with a faith born not of words but of deeds . . .” That’s all I remember from those six weeks of learning the FFA Creed my freshman year at Oakland High School. Now even what I remember has changed as the opening line goes: “I believe in the future of agriculture; with a faith born not of words but of deeds . . .” Agriculture has changed dramatically over the 30 years that have passed since Mr. Kearney made us memorize one stanza at a time during that first week of my voc ag experience. And now, after nearly thirty years, a change has taken place in the vocational agricultural program at North Fayette High School.

Ryan Holthaus is a graduate of Decorah High School and Iowa State University (where else do ag teachers graduate from!). He has taught previously at Anamosa High School. When he applied for our position, an all to common thought came across me: why would he want to move from a school the size of Anamosa to one smaller, like North Fayette? Then, I looked in the mirror and realized that I had a similar answer almost a year before. In Mr. Holthaus’s case, Brian Harper had built a very strong program, making it an attractive place to teach. Believe me, when I saw the principal position opened up, North Fayette was an attractive place to me because of the quality people that work in this district and the quality families that send their kids here to school. I also know it was a plus that he was able to move his family closer to where both he and his wife grew up. In this respect, luck on our behalf doesn’t hurt!

This is my fifth school district that I have worked in, and the eighth Iowa community where I have lived. I have a pretty good handle on this state, but must admit that our move to northeast Iowa has been a great new adventure. Every trip we take north and east of West Union seems to expose us to something new. This is also the most agriculturally intensive place I have lived in years. What I mean is that the agricultural industry has a greater impact on our local economy and culture than it did in the other places I lived in Iowa. A lot of that is due to the changes that have taken place over the years, but what I see here is still a strong attachment to the family farm. Because of the dairy industry, farming here is still labor intensive, much more so than in the western part of the state where many livestock operations are a thing of the past and what huge hog confinements do exist are highly automated. In other words, farming is still a way of life here, not simply an occupation.

So what does this have to do with Ryan Holthaus? I believe that he is the right person in the right place at the right time for North Fayette. He is a young man committed to students and the future of agriculture. From what I have seen, he brings a solid focus and balance to production, business, and scientific aspects of the industry. And most important, he shows a passion for what he does. If you have not had the opportunity to meet him, please take the time to seek him out and introduce yourself. You won’t have to look far because he is out and about all of the time. Welcome to North Fayette Mr. Holthaus!

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Are We Dealing With?

Over the past few years, I have seen a number of videos that are intended to present facts and give perspective to the world we live in. I know it is easy to dismiss them because it is also easy to feel like we are in rural northeast Iowa and a long ways away from this global perspective. However, just a few years ago we were quite a ways away from Direct TV and cell phone service! Folks, we need to pay attention to this stuff as we chart our educational course for the future.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Healthy Kids

Some of you may have heard about the Healthy Kids Act. It is a federal piece of legislation that has forced quite a bit of change on schools in the past couple of years. This year full implementation of this act must be in place. While I do not believe that anyone will disagree with the idea that we need to do what we can to help children lead healthy lives, there is some interesting debate about this legislation. Some of you will find some of the changes we have to make going to far. Others will understand why it is being done.

Senator Tom Harkin has been a leader in the development and passage of these new laws. I remember a few years ago that money was made available to qualifying schools to put fresh fruit and vegetables in front of students for snacks during the school day. At Indianola High School, there were boxes of apples in the hallways for students to pick up and eat on the way to class. At Creston Elementary, students received carrots, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower with ranch dip in the afternoon. The Senator had a lot to do with this, but interestingly, I don’t hear about this much any more.

Now that the act is to be fully implemented, a number of noticeable changes will be in place this year. No carbonated beverages can be sold during the school day. No candy or other restricted items can be sold during the school day as a fundraiser, which includes some of the bake sales groups have had. No pizza parties during the school day. I know that there will be disagreement on a number of the things that we are required to do, and honestly, I’m not sure I agree with all of them. However, it is law and we will input the changes with integrity. The one thing about this that truly bothers me is that while we are required to make all of these changes because of the high levels of childhood obesity in our country, we seem to be the only ones required by law to do so. This is certainly a scary health problem. But I do not believe for a minute that the diets and levels of exercise will change outside the school. In my opinion, there needs to be a much bigger attitude shift in our country. Since schools receive public funds, it is easy for our government to invoke rules on us, and at the same time, nearly impossible to do the same thing in the private sector. And, we are charged with education, and thus it does make sense that we have a role in this effort. However, as long as they give out toys in kid’s meals that are limited in their nutritional value, are we fighting a losing battle? Are there other sectors that can help fight the battle?

We live in a land of plenty and in many respects we have become out own worst enemy when it comes to our health. Too often we do not thing about the consequences of our sedentary lifestyle, yet expect medicine to take care of problems that we have imposed on ourselves. Thinking all of this through, perhaps this is a good first step, but I honestly believe that we are going to need more Jessie Oliver’s to take on this food revolution if we are going to make a difference.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A New School Day

The day at the high school will start a little earlier this year. First period will begin at 8:15 a.m. That is seven minutes earlier than in years past. Our day will finish at 3:20 p.m. Make sure to set your alarm clocks accordingly!

Not only has the start and end times changed, but what happens in the middle has changed as well. We actually have two different schedules. The A and B Day stays, but we will have a different look on Tuesdays and Thursdays. First off, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday have a standard eight period day. The length of the class periods is longer than in the past at 48 minutes. However, on Tuesday and Thursdays, we will have an advisory period for twenty minutes between second and third period.

In light of these changes, we have an additional 44 minutes a week of instruction time. You can never have too much of that!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Registration and Class Schedules

Registration for the upcoming school year takes place next week. The process has not changed much from previous years. There are a few things that we want to draw your attention to before you come in. First of all, many students have already checked out their class schedule through Infinite Campus. If you have not already done that, we encourage you to do so. However, you do need to know that the schedule is not final! Mr. Clark is still making adjustments to balance classes and resolve conflicts. So, what you see today may actually be different tomorrow. It is also important to remember that while we make every effort to meet the requests of each student, it is impossible to do so. Putting a master schedule together is similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle, but in this case, we often have to go with what creates the fewest conflicts, acknowledging that some students will not get all of the courses they want. This is why we asked students to list alternate choices when they selected classes in the spring. If you check your schedule prior to coming in to register and would like to go over your schedule with Mr. Clark, he will be available.

I also want to mention that we will have activity tickets for sale at registration. I am not sure that people truly understand the cost savings that exists when one purchases a ticket for a student. The Board of Education dropped the price to $30.00 for a ticket that will admit students to all high school and middle school activities except for the play and state sponsored events. With student admission set at $5.00 for football games and $4.00 for other athletic events, by attending five home football games and one volleyball game, you have basically paid for the ticket with many more events ahead! We strongly encourage parents to purchase the tickets as they are the most affordable way for your child to attend events at North Fayette.

Early bird opportunities are once again available to order yearbooks. Students will be on hand to take orders for this coming years book. I got a peak at the 2010 book that just arrived and I am sure that everyone will be impressed by the full-color edition. There are a lot of great photos that capture the essence of the 2009-2010 school year.

You will very quickly get a sense of the changes that are going on in our building once you enter the main doors. At the current time, quite a bit has been torn up and soon things will be put back together. It looks like it will go right down to the wire as far as the high school office being ready for the start of school, and the central office will be finished some time after that. However, ready or not, we will be ready to go when students arrive on August 18! Bob Heins has told me stories of what it was like years ago when he worked on the construction of the building and it was not finished when school started. Block and plank "lockers" and classrooms that had to be emptied at night so they could pour concrete! Wow!

I will be in the building on Monday and Tuesday during registration and invite you to stop in my office to discuss any matter that is on your mind, whether it has to do with school or not! Tuesday evening I leave for our state administrator convention in Des Moines and will be attending sessions Wednesday and Thursday. This is always a good event as SAI brings in a number of strong presenters in the field of education, and it is nice to see friends that I have made throughout my career as a teacher and administrator.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It’s Summertime!

Note: I started this on June 1 and did not get back to it until nine days later. That would explain a few things with this article!

One more day of school for the students, and another for the staff and then it is officially summer! It has been a very good school year from my perspective and while I still have a lot to get done before I can take a few days to get away, I have enjoyed working with the staff and students. So much has happened that I am not going to go through the year month-by-month, or event-by-event. But there are a couple of things I want to mention.

John Rothlisberger is a wonderful man and has done a very good job moving our district through a difficult decision-making process. It is important for people to understand that in tough times it takes people that are willing to make tough decisions to do what is in the long-term best interest of a group, or in our case, a school district. I respect John R. as an administrator and a human being. I am thankful that I had the chance to work with him. He has restored my faith in educational leaders!

I must admit that I am at least a bit anxious about the middle school in the fall. You are most likely not aware that both Kathy Bauer and I have worked with middle school teachers to put a structure in place for next year. There is a lot to do, but I am confident that when the doors open for students in August, we will be ready. I just need to work on convincing myself of that! The primary reason for my faith that this will happen is because of the great group of teachers that will be in place at the building in Fayette. They are true pro’s and I have no doubt that as we work the kinks out, your children and mine will receive as good of an education as one can find in this part of Iowa!

The staff and students have been outstanding this year at North Fayette High School. I know that with staff cuts at the end of the year, it made for a tough situation for some. In spite of that, I was impressed with how the teachers kept the focus on student learning and that the students kept after it as well. Throughout the year I was made to feel welcome and I hope I had as positive of impression on the people in the building as they had on me.

It’s been a great year to be a Hawk! I look forward to seeing everyone again in the fall!

Note: I may include a few entries in the blog this summer and will definitely return in August. My hope is to improve upon this year and provide interesting and relevant things for you all to ponder!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Great End To The Year

I have spent a little time reflecting as graduation is about twenty-four hours away on a couple of recent events that have taken place. The funny thing about it is that they are actually two of my least favorite events/activities associated with being a high school principal. Before you read any further, I would ask that no one takes offense and remember that what I have to say is my opinion (though I know it is shared by a number of other high school principals through conversations we have every year!). Prom and Awards Night. Just mention of those words tend to bring sighs and grimaces to the faces of high school principals. Read on and I will tell you why, and also share how this year my stance has somewhat softened.

Prom is a four-letter word, lumped in with all of those other negative four-letter words. Prom reeks of excess, over-indulgence, misplaced values, and cheesiness reinforced by 1980’s teen movies. I have never liked prom, even as student, yet I have been to at least 16 of them over the years! The amount of money that is spent is way out of whack. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see a problem with kids getting all gussied up and having that kind of an opportunity, but when one looks at the cost, it is ridiculous! And, try to get 16- or 17-year-old girls to focus on anything other than dress styles, hair decisions, and size of heels after the end of February! And boy, I don’t even want to get into what is going on in the minds of the boys!

Awards Night has traditionally been that evening for me that has equal parts happiness and hard feelings. For every student that receives a major award, there are two or three that believe they were slighted. Adults in the audience keep a scorecard updated with number of wins and total dollars. Certain kids don’t show up because they do not think that they are going to get anything, or worse yet, because they don’t care. Understand that these are general observations and not necessarily indicative of any one experience. However, more often than not, I have seen things like this happens and at least from my standpoint, it taints what should otherwise be an evening that celebrates the efforts of a group of students that are grouped together as a class.

I will not say that I have changed my mind completely, but after experiencing both events for the first time at North Fayette, I have tempered my opinions and in some respects, I see hope! Or at least, I feel that there is some perspective. Starting with Prom, for the past twelve years, I have often wondered whom Prom is really for: the students or the moms. Seriously! It has seemed that a lot of moms have been more engaged than the daughters, and for the last nine years, parents were constantly hovering -- some years even watching kids eat! – during an evening that was originally considered a coming out for high school students. People spent more time talking about what so-and-so’s dress cost than they did taking joy in the often overlooked young lady who dressed up so beautifully. But I saw little of that here. More important, I saw a lot of kids having a lot of fun, which is what it is all about. They truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company and were absolutely no trouble at all! The faculty gave the kids some space and was treated respectfully in return. It was refreshing! I still have a problem with sophomores and 9th graders attending, but that is for another day! It was a very enjoyable evening and a wonderful process to be part of this year.

Awards night was incredible! Yes, there were a few pencils working out there tallying up numbers, and I am sure that there were some questions as to why someone won a particular award and someone else did not. But, the outpouring of support from the community through Dollars for Scholars is most likely unequalled for a school this size. Support was spread throughout the class, but when I watched the students go up and accept, in most instances I thought that folks got it right. You know, the kids that work hard and achieve should be awarded for their efforts and excellence. We don’t give everyone a gold medal regardless of where they finish a race on the track, nor should anyone expect something different when honoring those for what they do in the classroom.

The end of the school year is by nature stressful, but I am enjoying the last few weeks of the 2009-2010 here at North Fayette. Give me a few months to recharge my batteries this summer and we’ll be ready to get going again in August.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Does Anyone Else Think The Way I Do?

From time to time I tend to have rambling thoughts and questions that I ponder. I don’t know if other people ever consider some of the same things, and if so, perhaps someone can provide answers to some of these questions. So, from a mind that wanders, here are some of those thoughts that run through my mind.

Is there are good reason that in youth sports today kids play 45 softball games a season, play seven volleyball matches in a day, or wrestle a 100 matches throughout the year other than for their parents to be able to say that they played that many games? Or because parents pay so much money into these programs that they believe they have to get a return on their investment?

Whatever happened to politicians being public servants that take their turn rather than making a career out of holding office and seeking ways that are in their best interest to stay in power at the expense of those who elected them? Our government comes to a virtual stop because these folks need to campaign to get re-elected, and with the fact that campaigns start earlier and earlier, do they ever just govern?

When an Iowa State fan claims they cheer for Iowa except when they play the Cyclones, or when an Iowa fan claims they cheer for Iowa State except when they play the Hawks, are they truly a fan of their team? In my opinion, a true Cyclone never cheers for the Hawkeyes and vice versa.

No offense to any particular schools, but I am now aware of two schools that refer to their girl’s athletic team as Lady Pirates. Does this sound right? Aren’t lady pirates wenches? From an English teacher perspective wouldn’t ‘lady pirate’ be an oxymoron? I never liked the sound of it. Can’t they just be Pirates?

A question was posed in one of the classes I observed lately in regard to the existence of a double standard between males and females in our country. The students certainly agree that it does exist though there was a significant difference of opinion on the extent of the standard. What bothers me a great deal, especially being the father of a teenage daughter, is how so few girls recognize that at the root of the double standard is power. Why do so many young ladies, and for that matter so many women, give up their power to a male?

Is it safe to say that American patriotism really got it’s biggest shot in the arm as a result of the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics when the U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! chant first appeared? Did that victory over the Soviet Union lead to the eventual failure of the communist regime? Would a victory this year have toppled Canada?

Do I understand correctly that our representatives in Washington, specifically an ethics panel, have said that it is okay to steer special projects toward their financial contributors? So by today’s standard it is ethical to give government contracts to people that throw you a big sum of money to help get you elected. Wow! In my mind, that sure sounds like “bribery!” Ethics sure have changed!

A recent item in the newspaper shared theses results from ten years of research: students with high quality teachers learn more than those who do not have high quality teachers. No kidding! Another instance where we spend millions of dollars researching common sense!

Friday, May 7, 2010

We Need More School

About seven years ago, I went through a transformation in regard to my opinion about year-round school. From the time that I first understood the school calendar, summers had always been sacred to me. Certainly as a kid, I valued time off from school and all that went with the summer, swimming, baseball, picnics, vacation, time at grandparents. As a teacher, I saw summer as an opportunity to do two things: supplement my income and continue my education. I pursued both with zeal every summer of my teaching career. Once I became a principal, I also became a parent. Summer gave me a chance to finish those things up that I couldn’t get to during the school year, as well as to spend time with my kids. We have had some great vacations to wonderful places, as well as spent a lot of time watching ball games and other things our children have been involved in. But as I stated at the outset, my opinion has changed.

One reason that I have changed my mind has nothing to do with school. It is more from the perspective of what has changed in the American family. When I was in school, my mom was home every day in the summer and my dad had a work schedule where he was flexible enough to get to ball games in the evening. Each day we had work to do or 4-H projects to work on in the morning, and usually we hit the pool in the afternoon, at least until I was in high school and worked for area farmers. Today, many of our students are with a babysitter, or home alone. Some high school kids work, and perhaps here there are more that have the opportunity for some good, full-time summer jobs, but many do not. I was fortunate because I had a lot of quality family time in the summer, but times have changed. And due in part to that, I think that a lot of our students would be better served to be in school.

The other major “whys” are numerous. We need more time to teach students what they need to know. Looking at those that come into school, they are not as well equipped as they once were due to changes in the family structure. But once we get them, the expectations are much greater than they were when we were in school. What educators are being asked to teach, and what students are expected to be able to do when they graduate, is so much more than it was just fifteen years ago it is hard to comprehend. To be competitive in the global economy, our kids need to have a more solid foundation of content knowledge and skill development. In addition, we need to have a more serious approach to school. There was a time when that was not an issue, but today the value of an education has diminished in the eyes of many. If we are not careful, the America of the future will include an underclass similar to what we see in some of those overpopulated countries on television. Imagine the level of poverty seen in Mexico City and Mumbai!

So what if the powers-that-be made the decision to go in that direction? What is the fall out? A good friend of mine lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and when his boys were in middle school and elementary, one attended a school with a traditional schedule and the other went to a year-round school. His comment to me was that it just takes organization and scheduling. Both boys had some time off in the summer, so that is when they took vacation. Both boys had some time off in the winter, and they vacationed again! They did not see an issue with family time with one of their sons having going year-round that could not be overcome. And because some of the breaks were staggered for the boys, they got to spend some quality one-to-one time with each of them that was not possible before. I guess it’s one of those glass-half-full situations if you choose to have that perspective.

If at some point we go year-round, we need more school, not just spread the year out. My proposal would be 200 days for students and fifteen to twenty days of training for teachers. No early outs or late starts for professional development. That would all be taken care of with those 15 to 20 days of mandatory professional development for teachers. Let’s have more time for kids and more time for teachers to learn how to improve their craft. A consistent criticism of teachers is that they get the summer off. Okay, make them 12-month employees like everyone else and take that criticism away. But, make certain to compensate them accordingly and include adequate time for this to continue their growth through new learning. Great idea? It is not original! I stole it! But, it is an idea whose time has come.

Yes there are obstacles and conflicts that will have to be resolved. Being an old 4-H’er, I often wonder about how county fair will be possible if the kids are in school? Well, we may need to move fair dates to fit into a break. Or, perhaps activities involving school age kids will be in the evenings. Or maybe the fair becomes an educational activity that partners with the school in some capacity. While I may not have all of the answers, give me enough time and I will find them!

What I know is that the world has changed. We have to change to better prepare our kids for that world. We also need to drop some of the “protectionist” beliefs we have and the denial that exists. Folks, it ain’t going back to the way it used to be! The world is going to have an impact on the students that live in our communities. If they are to have any hope of living at the same standard of living you and I enjoy, we must look at change. Let’s start with more school!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our Kids Are Too Fat!

A headline in the Des Moines Register last week caught my eye: Child obesity called national security risk. I wrote about this earlier in the year in one of my newsletters from some information that had been released earlier on findings from the Department of Defense. Now that it is front-page news and our Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack weighs in, I think that more attention needs to be given to this epidemic.

A report was released by a group called Mission: Readiness. That report claims that 75% of all Americans from 18 to 24 cannot be enlisted in the military because they are overweight or have other issues that would disqualify them, such as a criminal record or inadequate education. While the current recession is making it easier for the military to find recruits, the obesity problems will create some long-term challenges. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that in our country, 42.5% of men and women in that age bracket are either obese or overweight. To add a little more perspective, the average young man or woman would have to lose about 34 pounds to be at normal weight, and broken down further, the average young Iowan would have to lose about 40 pounds. Both the military and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are pushing Congress to deal with this national security threat.

Already we have seen changes at school. We can no longer sell certain kinds of beverages through our vending machines, and there are also restrictions on food that can be sold, such as regular pop and candy. Our food service program has specific guidelines that they must follow in terms of food, preparation, and portions. At North Fayette, we have made the adjustments in our beverage machines as well as what we make available to our kids through our BPA program, which provides snacks to students. Carol Stanbrough, our food service director, has also worked hard to put better nutritional choices in front of our students. And, Brenda James and Trudy Campbell are working with a group of students to establish some grassroots efforts among our students to make better choices. And, more is ahead as stronger restrictions of what we make available to our students will be in place.

While I did not get to watch every episode, I did catch a few of NBC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I also have bookmarked his website and have checked out a number of the interesting pages and links that are included. One of the things that this world-renowned chef is trying to do is change the eating habits of Americans. This is a challenge that many believe to be impossible, but Mr. Oliver has started by working with the Huntington, West Virginia schools and their food service program. Working with many skeptics, he has attempted to put quality, fresh food choices in front of the students. It has been inspiring to watch his efforts and commitment. This has become somewhat personal with me as well because I am at that stage in my life where my bad habits have caught up with me. I am easily 40 pounds overweight and after recent physicals, my blood work has come back with some scary realities. As a teenager, I had no problem passing the physical for acceptance into the United States Military, but now I am hard pressed to exert a great deal without being fatigued.

So where do we go? As parents we need to get back to preparing fresh food for our children and help them established good eating habits. We also need to make certain that they are engaged in exercise on a daily basis and appreciate the benefits that healthy living will have for them in the future. I am a skeptic right now on whether changing school lunch programs will make a huge different in the obesity levels of our youth. Once again, public schools are being required to take on parenting roles. However, we are educators and we must continue to prepare our youngsters for their future.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Driving Ban, Texting, and Facebook

A few weeks ago our state legislature passed a ban on the use of cell phones while driving for teenage drivers with restricted licenses, and forbids adults from texting while driving. It may sound kind of dumb, but as the media covered this issue as it was debated, it struck me that so much of the conversation was on the younger drivers. Obviously they do not have the experience behind the wheel that we older folks do, but when it comes to texting . . . kids rule! If anyone can multi-task with one of the tasks texting, it’s a teenager! My texting skills have improved a little bit, but I am a Rookie Leaguer compared to the average 15-year old! And, once I started using a Blackberry I have successfully texted while driving. Yes, I have done it and frankly, it may have been one of the dumbest things I have done. I cannot do it and maintain necessary control of the vehicle. So, while I have texted while driving three or four times, I have stopped and am no longer texting behind the wheel. The law is a good law, but you know how it goes. People still speed in spite of the posted limits. I hope people internalize how dangerous it is, and I know our students are getting a good dose of information through driver education about the potential perils. I hope that parents are serving as positive role models for their kids because they are the strongest teachers they have!

Not many people have asked me one of the standard questions that are commonly asked teachers: what has changed since you started as a teacher? This year I cannot believe how many problems we have had with Facebook. I’m not blaming Facebook! I have an account and earlier today I found that I have 18 fellow Oakland High School alums seeking to be my Facebook friend. I am not passionate about Facebook, nor do I spend a lot of time on it. But it is a way to stay connected to friends that I do not see very often, or have not seen in a long time. (My wife still says that the telephone works just fine!) They call it “social networking” which is a term I don’t really understand, and frankly, I have never liked the term “networking” applied to human interaction, but that’s for another article! I think Facebook is pretty nifty, but like a lot of things, it can be misused.

The problems we have had at school are no different from the pencil and paper note passing that has gone on in schools for a hundred years. It is just a lot quicker and it can reach a lot more people in seconds. Problems happen when an adolescent’s bad judgment collides with technology and they fire something hurtful toward someone through Facebook. And then their target quickly fires back. And, all of this is happening while others online are being entertained and reading along and then some of them join in and away we go! I cannot believe that kids fail to recognize that if they send it out in cyberspace, they cannot take it back and it is there for everyone to read. There have been some very serious harassment cases in parts of the country that have involved cyber-bullying, but up to this point what we have are basically two kids that are mad at each other fighting their fight through a Facebook account. By the end of the year I bet we have nearly a ream of paper of Facebook copies that have been brought into us by students who are upset about what was written to them or about them on Facebook. One thing I haven’t understood it why they continue to include the person posting hurtful things on their account as a friend! Makes sense to me that if someone is running you down that you get rid of them from your list of friends!

Brain research has shown through studies of CT scans and other studies of the brain, that the adolescent brain is not fully developed, particularly that part that is involved in choices and judgment. Many kids are very responsible and make good choices on what they put out on the Internet. But there have always been those kids that do not handle things well and make bad choices; those that lack responsibility and tend to act before they think. Now, when they do something stupid on Facebook, it’s out there for everyone to see. Maybe like the cell phone ban while driving, there could be some regulation on cyber-communication. However, that is not really practical or necessary when all that really needs to happen is that parents require their child to include them as a friend on Facebook and monitor what they are putting out there for others to read. Not a bad idea!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It’s Like A Kick In The Gut

Last night I received a phone call from Larry Otten, good friend and middle school principal at Creston. Larry and I worked together for nine years and worked with a lot of the same kids. The phone call last night was not one with good news. Larry told me that they found Travis Henry dead. He had killed himself. Travis was a freshman this year, and while he was not one of “my kids” since I moved to North Fayette this year, I knew him because he attended the same church as we did when we lived in Creston. And, his mother was a teacher for me at the high school. The irony is that earlier in the day, the family of James Kosman held his funeral in Creston.

James graduated last year, but apparently was hanging out with a bunch of high school students when he made a real bad choice and was electrocuted before he dropped 35 feet to the ground. I got to know James pretty well almost exactly a year ago when I went on a trip with him and 41 other students to Washington, D.C. and New York. One of my jobs on that trip was to keep and eye on James and a few other young men because they were a bit ornery. We didn’t have any problems, and I got to know James a lot better than I had in the nearly four previous years of high school. In particular, we had a real good talk on the bus between Washington, D.C. and New York.

It may sound a bit callous, but I am to the point in my life and career that I can say that nothing surprises me any more. But death at such an early age under the circumstances that they two boys died does cause me to pause and wonder “why?” I am not going to provide commentary on the conditions under which each of the deaths occurred, nor ponder as to why they happened. I am going to state how I feel and why.

Before I do that, I also have to add that back in October, David Reeves, took his own life. Compounding the sadness was that only months prior, David’s mother Lynn lost a valiant battle with cancer. Of the three young men, I knew David the best, as did my daughter, who used to play in the saxophone section with him. Like the others, David was a young man with a world of potential and unlimited opportunities in front of him.

The staff and students at Creston are hurting. I don’t think anyone can truly understand the challenges of conducting school each day under such a cloud of grief and sadness. But I know the teachers there work very hard every day to keep school in front of the kids. The problem is that a lot of the emotion is gone because in so many respects, it has literally been sucked out of them.

Now I am four hours away. I have a whole new group of young people that I have responsibility for here at North Fayette. But as I said earlier, nothing really surprises me anymore, thus in a strange sort of way, my worries seem to only have increased. When I heard about David, that painful lump immediately found its way into my throat and I fought back tears. However, they streamed down my face when I shared what I knew with my daughter. Actually, my wife Tammy had to speak the words because I could not. I knew that the pain that had to be felt by his dad, brother, and grandparents, as well as close family friends had to be unbearable. Just a week before they buried David, he had been playing the drum with the Panther Marching Band in a snowstorm in Des Moines. And now he was gone. I still find myself thinking about David and pondering how a young man with so many gifts got to the point where death was a better option than life.

When the emails and texts started coming in about James, my initial response was “Dammit! He pushed it too far!” In recent years James had tested the limits in many respects and I know that his parents and others had concerns about risky behaviors that he was experimenting with. When I heard that there were about a dozen high school students out and about at 2:00 in the morning with James, I thought what the heck is going on! And then, just today, I was told that only three of the group stayed with James after the fall waiting for an emergency vehicle and the rest of the kids ran. Now I asked “why?” What was going on that kids would scatter when their friend was lying on the concrete either dead or dying? Why?

And then it was Travis. Many people in Creston attended the funeral for James only to receive text messages a few hours later that another young man was dead. What worries me, it that that lump in my throat is not quite as painful, nor the pain in my stomach quite as bad. I am afraid because I hope that I am not getting used to this! But, that lump and sick feeling in my stomach does grow when I think of the folks on the front line at Creston High School. The principals and counselors, teachers, secretaries, custodians, cooks, and aides. Those folks are carrying a heavy burden on their shoulders. More than anything else, I really feel for Tammy Riley and Angie Bolinger, the guidance counselors. Those two wonderful counselors are hurting. They are the ones that have to be strong and have to be there for the kids, families, and everyone who comes to them. Their jobs are so complex in this day and age that they are stretched when things are normal. And now, everything else gets put on the back burner because so many people need them. And I am also angry because some people have the audacity to throw criticism their way. The critics don’t have a clue. I’ll leave it at that.

Life is precious. Like is tough. Life is worth living. David, James, and Travis, I wish you were still here to give it another shot.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sound of Silence

A couple of months ago I attended the monthly Ministerial Association meeting and as we were discussing some issues early in the meeting, one of the pastors made a comment that really struck me. He stated, “When the sounds of children are absent from worship the church dies.” For some reason, that comment really caused me to think and reflect. I certainly understand the impact of a shortage of young people in church. It is no secret that many congregations are getting older in terms of their members and that younger families, for what every reason, do not attend church, as did previous generations. I also thought it a bit ironic because I have been in church when young children were making a little noise and older folks were visibly agitated because of the noise. I have even seen a couple of elderly people “shush” some little kids and tell a young mom that she needed to “quiet her children.” And then, I thought about school. What about school and the sound of silence?

In a number of classes that I have taken over the years as well as workshops and training focused on school improvement and better instruction, a common theme that is being expressed runs along the lines of “when I walk down the hall I want to hear noise from the classrooms.” Now, that runs counter to some of the “old fashioned” methods of running classrooms where students did not speak unless they raised their hands and were acknowledged by the teacher. But what research tells us is that students learn best by doing, and in many respects they have to talk to one another, collaborate and problem solve as a team rather than in isolation. If the only one talking is the teacher, then we should wonder how much learning is going on. Yet, that is still the case in some instances.

For many, many years, teachers have been viewed as the “sage on the stage,” and were the primary source of information. Perhaps you can remember one that was full of wisdom that shared it with you. I certainly can remember Mr. Cannon and those wonderful stories he told in my history classes, as well as Mr. Kenney who was the first to really point out that there was truly meaning in pieces of literature beyond the words that were in print. Today, that role of teacher has changed. No longer are teachers the purveyor of information that they once were. Our culture has changed so much that we do not need to rely on their wisdom. This is not to lesson their importance. On the contrary, they may even be more important! What has happened is that content information is more readily available than ever before. Students can access information faster than a teacher can tell a story. The “sage on the stage” has had to transform to the “guide on the side,” navigating young minds through the minefields of misinformation and training them to use their minds to develop greater understanding. It is no longer good enough to learn content.

The engaged learning environment is one where noise is the norm. Dialogue takes place between teacher and students, as well as student to student. Teams are created much like the workplace where collaboration is necessary in order for a task to be completed. Of course, this transition has not gone as smoothly or as quickly as it should. There are some that remain resistant to “giving up control” over their classroom. And honestly, as I remember back to my teaching days, I know that I needed a little peace and quiet! However, because of the power of collaboration and the sharing of ideas, as well as the need for students to “do” in order to learn, I need to hear noise when I walk down the hallways. Otherwise, I must question whether or not students are learning.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What We Can Learn From Jerry Seinfeld

On Valentines Day I read an article in the Sunday paper about Jerry Seinfeld and thought, “Wow! This is what I have been saying all along!” Now, I watched a number of episodes of Seinfeld though I would not describe myself as a big fan and certainly am not one of those that remember specific dialogue or episodes. However, I have read a number of things about him and his life since his television show and have found that a number of our values and beliefs are the same. I realize that there are a number of experts out there with qualifications that far exceed Seinfeld in the area of parenting, but I found his “Three Rules of Parenting” about as good of a common sense list that I have read.

Seinfeld refers to his rules as “the poison P’s.” The first is Praise. How often have we heard in recent years that we need to praise on our kids? We need to build their self-esteem! In order to motivate them we need to focus on the positives! Truth be told, I have always been skeptical of this and everything I have been reading in recent years from child and educational psychologists tell us that we have way overdone it. Young people need to develop intrinsic motivation and a sense of doing something for personal satisfaction, to serve others, or because it is the right thing to do. The phenomenon of layering praise on top of praise has had some consequences that are hard to fathom from my perspective. Go to any kids sporting event and in many instances the child receives a medal or trophy for simply showing up! And, take a look at those trophies! Some are taller than the little shaver that carries it off the awards stand! Grade inflation is something that has made its way into school. My goodness, the quality of an “A” paper is not close to the level expected for an “A” paper back in the day. A challenge for our teachers is to restore that level of excellence and raise the quality bar. Simply completing an assignment is not good enough and we should quit pretending that just because something is done does not mean it has been done well! In some respects it seems that kids are immune to praise. They hear so much of it that is carries little meaning to them. We need to offer encouragement and support, but make certain what we praise is truly worth praising.

Problem-solving is the next of the poison P’s. Seinfeld was quoted as saying, “We refuse to let our children have problems. Problem solving is the most important skill to develop for success in life, and we for some reason can’t stand if our kids have a situation that they need to ‘fix.’ Let them struggle – it’s a gift.” To borrow a quote from another individual, Steve Deace from WHO radio in Des Moines, “Students need to experience disappointment. It is part of life. They need to learn to overcome adversity. It is part of life.” How can we possibly believe that we are preparing our children for life’s struggles when we solve all of their problems for them? Whatever happened to requiring a son to go in an confess his missteps over the weekend to the principal rather than a parent doing everything possible to sweep it under the carpet, or taking the position of “it isn’t wrong unless you get caught” and then hope that Junior doesn’t get caught! What is up with that! I believe that in the classroom teachers have become so concerned about moving through content that they do not allow students to struggle and solve problems before they rush in and solve it for them. Kids do not stick with it and give up when something gets tough because they have not developed the skills of persistence and fortitude. Call me mean but both of my kids have sat in tears trying to get something right with their homework, and I have not rushed in and helped because one day I am not going to be there for them. I often wonder what “helicopter parents” are thinking by swooping in and rescuing their child. Let them skin their knee, bump their noggin’, pick themselves up and dust themselves off! That is learning! It is okay to fail! What is important is what one does after the failure. That is perseverance and problem solving.

The third poison P is giving your child too much Pleasure. Seinfeld didn’t elaborate much on this except to share an example of a young mom who bought her daughters huge cookies at 5:00 in the evening rather than saying that dinner was at 6:00. I would say that this is probably the “P” I struggle with the most. Maybe it is that “I want my kids to have what I didn’t mentality.” But, on the flip side, I do not have a problem saying “No!” I believe that we don’t say “No!” enough. Perhaps it is part of this consumer society that we live in where so many parts of our lives are lived in excess that we buy, buy, buy. Or on reflection, our kids are so tuned into video games, texting, and those things that when we hear them say they are bored that we rush to entertain them. I buy into the idea that our kids have far more than they need and that they do not do a very good job of entertaining themselves like we did when we were kids, so the challenge is to figure out how to bring back a sense of value for our kids because that is something that I don’t think they truly understand. By the same token, why are so many 16-year olds quitting sports and music program so that they can work to pay for a car? What’s wrong with riding the bus or walking to school? I bought my first car when I was 23 and finished with college and needed something to move to the town where I acquired my first job. Some may argue, but I think I turned out okay!

I am not saying the Jerry Seinfeld is the end-all, be-all when it comes to parenting. But like many in my generation, we are looking at what is going on around us and for whatever reason, common sense and sanity are starting to kick in. Look at the three P’s and do a little self-assessment as to where you are. You know, teenagers need parents more than they need an adult friend. I have read a tremendous amount of research where teens have said they want structure and expectations in their lives. How about we get it right before it is too late!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow Days

When I was a kid there was nothing better than a snow day. In my memory I can recall snow piled as high as the roof of my house and sledding down hills that seemed the size of a small mountain. It was great to wake up to KMA radio and hear Oakland or Council Bluffs schools included on the list of those that were out for the day. We were always early risers, so generally once we heard the announcements, we started planning for the day. There were a few times that a neighbor and I would go door to door in the late morning trying to earn a few bucks shoveling driveways. Mom would usually fix soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, which were a welcome break from school lunch. When the news would come on at six that night, we watched the weather hoping for more snow in the forecast and the potential for another day off.

The worst sound that you could hear after going to bed with the hope of a day off due to a few inches of that wonderful white stuff was the rumbling sound of the snowplow. We all knew that if the plows got out early in the morning, the chances of the longed for day off diminished significantly. The dad of one of my classmates in elementary school drove a plow and I remember that we would often shun him when we had to go to school and there was snow on the ground. Like it was his fault!

Thinking back to those days sledding down the hills on the Oakland golf course or the one on the side of Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs bring back a lot of memories. However, I no longer have that same warm place in my heart! Now I go to bed when there is snow in the air dreading the phone call that I know will come early in the morning. I also have to share the news with my wife who is sick and tired of kids being in the house all day rather than at school – where they are supposed to be! I am really tired of the color white because that is all I see outside. I am not opposed to going to school in June, in fact, just the opposite. I have maintained for years that I would rather have kids in school in June than in August. So it isn’t the whole “have to go to school in June” thing with me. No, I’m just tired of short weeks and the inability for our staff and students to get in the flow of school. And, did I tell you that I hate the color white!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Can We Do This Together?

At a town hall meeting for high school students on December 15, 2009, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked his audience what they are doing now to take responsibility for their own education. At that same meeting he pointed out that taking Advanced Placement classes, getting involved in extracurricular activities geared toward college majors or areas of interest, and volunteering are definite steps in that direction. The issue of taking responsibility for their own education is a topic people outside of the education field have also started to ponder as well, including Richard Doak from the Des Moines Register, who a little over a year ago basically told folks to back off on pointing fingers at the schools and level them at the conditions of poverty. As an educator, it was nice to read someone from the media who wasn’t blaming us!

In reality, the success that a student has in school is dependent on many factors, but basically, there are three: the student, the family, and the school. There are exceptions, but if all three do not contribute equally, then the chance of academic success is diminished. Or, in some instances, one or two of the factors have to compensate when another is not “pulling its weight.” I have seen some remarkable kids overcome horrible lives at home to become great students that give themselves the opportunity to live a much better life than their parents provided for them. I have also seen tremendous kids challenge themselves to be better when the school does not push them hard enough. But, I have also seen far too many kids that do not push themselves, and have dealt with more parents than I would like who do not hold their child accountable and find it easier to point their fingers at a teacher than at their own child. And, as sad as it may seem, I have dealt with parents who place a very low priority on their children and put up huge obstacles for them.

This working relationship is critical on a number of levels, but one that has me very concerned has to do with what our students today are going to face in their future. I know that part of my job is to educate parents and the community on things that are going on in this world that we are preparing their children for, and to some degree I question whether anyone is listening. Our children in school right now are going to compete with kids all over the world for jobs and yet why are we not making the necessary changes that need to be made to better prepare them for this reality? For instance, students in other countries are going to school 25 to 30 percent longer than we are. In a global economy, we are not playing on a level playing ground! Yet when are legislators and other leaders going to recognize that we have to have longer school years and compensate the teachers accordingly? However, it isn’t only them. I know that in this part of Iowa we still have a strong agricultural economy, but it is not the same as 100 years ago when school calendars were developed to meet the labor demands for farming. We must look at expanding our school year and get beyond the perceptions that have existed for so long that in our new information economy are terribly outdated.

From the perspective of a principal and a teacher, I know that we can continue to improve our instruction and the way we work with young people. It is a huge responsibility and mine to oversee on behalf of the students who attend our school. But I also agree a great deal with Secretary Duncan, an outspoken advocate of rewarding teachers based on student success, but who also has stated that teachers cannot do it alone regardless of the rewards. He made it clear that "students must be serious about their own education.” Honestly, on a daily basis this is what troubles me the most. I see kids every day that do not accept the fact that they must put forth their best effort to improve themselves, to develop their skills and expand their knowledge base. Many are only concerned with a grade or “passing” and do not seem to be interested in learning. We know from sports and the arts that in order to develop a skill it has to be practiced over and over again. The same is true for learning. Instead, many kids cram for a test to get a good grade, but do not internalize the important aspects of what they are supposed to learn. A recent Des Moines Register survey of nearly 13,000 educators showed that 79% of them do not believe that students want to learn. That is a troubling statistic! It is imperative that students listen in class, ask questions, make homework a top priority, put forth their best effort, get enough sleep, and take responsibility for their own learning.

Back to Doak’s position, teachers in Iowa also see the impact that poverty and life at home has on the children that arrive in their classroom each day. The same survey from The Register shows that 67% of Iowa teachers say that children in school are hungry or tired, and 88% stated that situations at home distract kids from learning, including anything from drugs to alcohol abuse by parents, constant moving, or a death in the family. What bothers me so much is that in some of these situations, parents are not making education a priority for their children. From the survey, it was stated, “Rich or poor, parents must instill in their children that it is their responsibility to get a good education.” There was a time in our history that parents living in tough situations wanted better for their children and knew that education opened those possibilities. Many parents must ask themselves what they can do differently to better prepare their children for school. According to The Register survey, “Parents have been let off the hook because we don’t want schools to use problems outside their door as an excuse.”

It seems that right now there is a lot of finger pointing, but the reality is that in order for my children, and other children, to be able to live the life they hope to live, we must figure out a way for everyone to be on the same page. There are times that schools are expected to solve problems that should be handled by parents. In some respect, we have taken the position that since it isn’t getting done at home, then we owe it to the child to take care of it at school. But when I really think about it, we cannot continue to do this. Where will it end? We have to communicate more with parents and in some instances help them so that we can all do a better job preparing children for their future. The idea of “it takes a village” is still very true today. Which brings us back to the question: Can we do this together?