Teach Me…I’m Yours

I love this initiative of the Texas Panhandle P-16 Council and Panhandle Workforce Solutions:

Teach Me…I’m Yours

While this campaign reminds parents that they are the primary teachers of their children, it also reminds me of the important work we do as educators of our scholars. I am reminded that those same parents entrust us to be their faithful and worthy partners in education alongside them.

I’m making this week’s blog post concise with the hope that you will click on the links titled, “click here for more” at Teach Me…I’m Yours.

Also, note that you can contact them to get posters to share with parents who are your partners in this worthwhile work we do in our community.

Yes, we learn, laugh, lead, LIVE and teach our scholars in the best community ever.

Call It a Day

My husband oftentimes has prophetic words of wisdom for me.

One evening, after I got home pretty late, I was still ruminating about the day. After listening to me for who knows how long, he finally said, “Why don’t you read your bracelet and call it a day?”

Point well taken.

In our business, it’s difficult to “call it a day.” We pour our heart and soul into our work on a daily basis because, after all, we teach scholars and that is very important work. At the same time, maybe we need reminders like we hear on airplanes when the friendly person on the P.A. system says to “put your oxygen mask on first before trying to help anyone else.”

A couple of days before school started this year, our AmaISD Communications Team released a zippy, silly dance video. Possibly this was to remind us all that as we learn, laugh, lead and live this year, we must also do so with some pep in our step.

Learn. Laugh. Lead. Live. (Yep, those resolute words on my bracelet…..)
And be sure to re-watch our fun AmaISD DANCE videothen call it a day. 🙂

Vote.

As educators, we teach our scholars many important lessons about being responsible citizens in the classroom, in our city or wherever they may be. We might even characterize this lesson something along the lines of “civic responsibility.”

Our AmaISD vision is that we empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.

Let’s also empower ourselves and our chosen profession in public education. Choose to be a contributor by voicing your opinion at the ballot box. If you kept up with our state’s recent regular and special legislative sessions, then you understand the importance and necessity of your involvement.

Go ahead and put it on your calendar to vote in the upcoming November election.

If you are not registered to vote, please sign up here.

To vote in Texas for the following elections be sure to register by the deadlines listed below.

  • November 7, 2017– Uniform Election Date: The deadline to register is October 10, 2017.

Rise Above the Debate

This article can also be read in the Amarillo Globe News.

It’s my honor to welcome you back to a new school year. As I am typing this, state legislators are in Austin discussing the future of public schools in our great state of Texas. Back here at home, Amarillo ISD teachers, counselors, principals, custodians and many other staff members are diligently working to welcome your child to a new year of academic encouragement, challenge and progress.

One of the many things I appreciate most about our Amarillo community is that while our state lawmakers banter about possible laws to drive new policy, we continue to rise above the debate. While members of the House and Senate wrestle to determine how much (or how little) to fund education, the people in our community always step forward to help feed, clothe and educate the scholars in our schools.

It is also a blessing to work with a financially responsible and fiscally conservative Board of Trustees. Eighty-five percent of our budget goes to pay for our team of 5,200 staff members in AISD. The remaining fifteen percent of the budget funds a multitude of items like utility bills and other day-to-day operations. Fortunately in the last ten years, our conservative stance has allowed us to fund other necessities like:

  • Campus door replacements- $237,000
  • Water and sewer line replacements- $251,000
  • Parking lot repairs and replacement- $1 million
  • Science labs- $4.2 million
  • Classroom additions- $12.6 million

And, we’ve done this all without a Maintenance & Operation tax increase for the past eleven years, even though the average age of our buildings is 58 years.

 AISD continues to move ahead to fulfill our vision of empowering our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. We know that you expect us to complete our mission of “graduating every student prepared for success beyond high school” each and every year. It’s easy to get excited about a new school year, mostly due to the fact that we always know that our local community works in collaboration with us to ensure healthy, happy and educated scholars.

Will you do one favor for me this year? In AISD, we expect every scholar to graduate with a plan. The plan is theirs, whether they want to join the military, get a two year/four year degree or seek employment that will lead to a living-wage. Whatever their plan is, it is important that our scholars continue to feel the community support that I feel. They need to know that not only do the folks in our community support them with resources and time, they are also supported with encouragement for their futures. So, ask our scholars, “What’s your plan?” and then be ready to share with them how you have invested in their future. I know you have invested, and on behalf of our Board of Trustees and all of the faculty and staff of Amarillo ISD, I say, “Thank you!”

Gallery

Learn. Laugh. Lead. Live.

Amarillo ISD’s vision is to empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.

Our mission is to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school.

Sometimes I wonder how we’ll all sustain the fortitude necessary to accomplish such important work. Then I remember that not only do we have each other, we also have the support of our community.

We have the support to LEARN together so we can be better for our scholars.

We have the opportunity to LAUGH along with our colleagues and our students.

We can LEAD because everyone in AmaISD is empowerd to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. Together we can design the future!

We LIVE. We live for our families at home and our families at work. We live in a wonderful city where folks step up each day to encourage education by volunteering their own time or resources.

I hope you will take a few minutes to watch my video message for you and to reflect on what it means to learn, laugh, lead and live.

https://youtu.be/LID5v5GAw-E

Also, I wanted you to know that we’re kicking off this school year with some new ways to highlight what’s happening in our district.

You can now find Amarillo ISD on Facebook (facebook.com/AmarilloISD), Instagram (@amarilloisd), Twitter(twitter.com/AmarilloISD) and YouTube (www.youtube.com/c/AmarilloISDtx).

We’ll take care of the media, but we need your help with the social. Please help us spread the word by liking, following and sharing our pages with your own friends and followers on social media. Also, follow me on Twitter @drdanawest as I travel around our city highlighting the extraordinary efforts of so many of our colleagues, scholars and friends of education.

#appreci8

I believe in having an attitude of gratitude. To maintain an attitude of gratitude, one must breathe in, breathe out, and just simply STOP to reflect every so often. An attitude of gratitude requires one to take stock of what’s really important and to minimize the daily distractions of those annoyances that, if handled with a smile, will soon disappear into a forgotten yesterday.

What’s important to me? My faith. My family. My friends. My profession.

As I paused for a moment to celebrate our chosen work, I decided to take a few minutes to replay some of our videos from this year.  I hope you will do that too. It will make you proud of the part YOU play in Amarillo ISD being a #WeAreChoice district.

The note below was written by a parent and shared with me via one of our schools. Customer Service is one of our core values. The message below is a great example of customer service.

You may not know all the ways you make a difference so I will share one that is worthy of praise.   My parents have limited English and are very involved as grandparents. My daughter is very close to her grandmother and spends almost every weekend with her.  When she started kindergarten this year, my parents were somewhat worried about how they would continue to be involved in her school functions or simply go eat lunch with her during grandparent’s week since they feel uncomfortable not always being understood because of their broken English.  You ladies dismissed any of those concerns the first weeks of school and my parents have now attended classroom parties, gone to eat with their granddaughter more than once because they say “the secretaries are so nice.”

 Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Yes, Friends… THANK YOU. Thank you for what you do in Amarillo ISD to make a positive difference in our scholars’ lives.

Profile of a Graduate

I routinely peruse a document titled, “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas: A Work in Progress for Conversation and Further Development.

Before convening our AISD Profile of a Graduate work, there were sentences in that document that haunted me:

The core business of schools is to provide engaging, appropriate experiences for students so that they learn and are able to apply their knowledge in ways that will enrich their lives and ensure their well-being.

Accountability systems of themselves do not produce excellence. Excellence can only come from commitment and meaning.

The shift in power in setting education policy from the local community to the state and federal government has resulted in a system where schools feel more accountable to the Legislature than to their students and their communities.

I’ve always thought our AISD mission statement certainly must have notoriety as the best one in Texas, if not the world. I feel like our entire district is in one huge relay race handing one scholar after another off to his next important step as we work together to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. It is inspiring that we believe in “every” and “beyond high school.” “Every” is inclusive of all who enter our doors and “beyond” solidifies our commitment to our scholars living their life plans, even after they’ve exited our buildings.

As I thought more about the phrase, “…where schools feel more accountable to the Legislature than to their students and their communities,” I wondered if that was true for us and if our community members would work alongside us and embrace the important task of raising young people.

Enter “Profile of a Graduate” work.

District and campus leadership staff and I began meeting with approximately sixty business, civic and community leaders over a span of two months in the spring of 2016. While we all agreed that our mission statement is the best one around, we also felt that much of the conversations in our schools had centered around academics and tests (which is important and we wanted to continue), but that we also needed a vision regarding the characteristics of a scholars who persevere and achieve success beyond formal pre-k through 12 academic experiences.

Working with our community was an exceptional learning experience for me as a leader. It was enlightening to hear parents voice their wishes and dreams for their children. It was encouraging to hear business leaders express the value of a combined commitment to academic, social and emotional skills. It was heartwarming to listen to servant leaders from our own city talk about the importance of everyone in a community valuing the diversity of those we live among as well as possessing the grit necessary to “roll up one’s sleeves” and make a difference in areas that aren’t necessarily tied to one’s paycheck.

While I often refer to that document titled, “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas,” our Profile of a Graduate endeavor gave wings to our AISD Vision for Public Education in Amarillo. We proved that “excellence does come from commitment and meaning.” While we remain cognizant that our state and federal leaders will continue to set expectations for public education, we also have a true understanding that our local community partners with us as well as counts on AISD to empower scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.

Marian Wright Edelman said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” While some might think her words reflect “a work in progress for conversation and further development,” in Amarillo, with our Profile of a Graduate, we know we are well on our way toward contributing to a better world.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will also take a few minutes and read AISD’s Portraits magazine.

Assessment/Accountability = Yes, but Oversimplified Labels = No

Here is the link to  the op-ed I did for the Globe News:

West: Schools are more than a label attached to grade

Below are more of my thoughts that I did not include in the op-ed. 🙂
I believe in assessment and accountability. I don’t believe that an oversimplified ranking system does anything other than inappropriately label the scholars and educators who put intentional effort into making a positive difference DAILY.
 
Did you know that the Jan. 6th “provisional” release of grades isn’t even figured out yet and the system isn’t scheduled to be final until August 2018? Also, did you know that there is no new money or support for districts/schools based on this rate/rank/label system?
 
Teachers work with each individual student. They don’t lump the whole class together and send home one grade for the entire class on a report card.
 
We work diligently to be the best we can for every scholar who enters our doors. We assess. We will remain accountable to our scholars and our community. We will use test and other data to check progress and to design systems/structures for continuous improvement.
 
We will do this because we are professional and because we care about our mission to graduate EVERY student prepared for success beyond high school. We will do this because our vision, developed by our community, is to empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.
 
We are more than a grade. #MoreThanAGrade
 

#MoreThanAGrade

img_1772As a parent and an educator, I know the power of words. Words can speak of promise and possibility, but they can also be used to demoralize. If you are in Amarillo ISD, you know that I refer to our students as scholars. To me, a “scholar” is a life-long learner. A scholar possesses a growth-mindset. When we label our students as scholars, they might see themselves a bit differently, but I know I definitely do. Students must be able to read, write, calculate and learn what is set before them. Scholars must be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. In AISD, we teach the student and we nurture the scholar in every child. We speak possibility and our actions match our words. It’s our job and we take it seriously.

I have two daughters. I remember teaching them how to ride a bike and how to drive a car. I knew the importance of positively focusing on the knowledge, skills and concepts they’d need to do both well.

It didn’t make sense for me to label, compare or rank them. What made sense was to encourage them as they practiced. It made sense to check for understanding, add more information or practice, and then go again. The stakes were high. Riding a bike or driving a car are things one will do for life. I didn’t have to label, grade or rank my girls in order to motivate them to do better. Because of the importance of both tasks, it was my job to ensure they knew the rules of riding or driving and that they could do it all well. They needed encouragement and practice. They didn’t need to be ranked and compared to every other kid learning to ride a bike or drive a car.

As educators, we know the work that we do to educate our scholars is high-stakes. It’s not high-stakes due to the STAAR or any other test. It is high-stakes because (just like parents) we know that if our children are going to have the knowledge, skills and concepts necessary to graduate prepared for success beyond high school, then it’s up to us to provide the encouragement and practice they’ll need to do so. We fully understand that our schools are about the academic education of those we serve, along with the social and emotional parts of learning and being in community with others.

Too many of our legislators have a fascination with labels and rankings for our schools. Over the years, our schools have been labeled names like Exemplary and Recognized or even Met Standard or Improvement Required.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric fed to those who represented us in the 84th legislative session by Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, and others was:

Every six weeks, our students get a report card that is easy to read and understand. Everyone knows what an A means and everyone knows what an F means. Why shouldn’t schools be graded once a year using the same A-F system?

So, here we go again. Part of House Bill 2804 required that our Commissioner of Education determine a new A-F system for Texas. Though we’ve been in school since August, we’ve not known what we’d be “graded” on until TEA released that information on Dec. 1. On Friday, Dec. 16, they released a lengthy document (you would need about 14 pages for each campus) to show how the 36+ areas which will comprise our “grade” will be boiled down into “provisional” grades for each Index 1- 4. Please note that the data set is based on 2015-2016 data and that some areas where we will be graded do not have data sets yet because we haven’t collected those numbers in Texas before.

So, while it’s easy for Mr. Hammond to say, “Everyone knows what an A means and everyone knows what an F means,” he is not correct.

In Amarillo ISD, we use data from a variety of sources so we can check how we’re doing related to criteria and so we can continuously improve. We have growth mindsets, not fixed. We value the opportunity to learn from our efforts and improve on them daily. Adults and students use data everyday in our schools to collaborate with each other about specific areas to celebrate as well as to design the next steps necessary for improvement. We already use many of the data sets listed in the A-F system, but we use that data as a way to help individuals know what the next steps for improvement are, not as a way to label and to rank.

I visit campuses at least once a week. I often sit with our scholars as they proudly tell me about their individual data notebooks, data sheets or goals. I have never had one of our scholars tell me that he or she is an “A” student (or any letter grade for that matter). Instead, our scholars tell me what they know and what they are working on based on the individual instruction and assessments we give them. We encourage their practice throughout the entire year. We don’t use the state’s two or four hour test as a label or identity for each of our scholars.

We have a commitment to “high stakes.” You see, high-stakes to us means we are entrusted with people’s most precious possession, their children. Our parents, community members and business leaders expect us to welcome each scholar who enters our door with a promise so that they can graduate with a plan. Last year, leaders in our community helped us develop our Profile of a Graduate. They told us it is important for our AISD scholars to be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. They did not say they wanted every child to get an A on a report card. In fact, we never talked about grades or report cards. In the State Board of Education’s report titled, “Texans Speak” people across the state stated they are tired of our schools and our children being defined by a once a year test. Our community agreed.

I am not opposed to a fair accountability system. I am opposed, just like educators across the state, to the notion that all of the individual work we do with our scholars can be boiled down to a system designed to rank entire campuses. While those who are legislating for “school choice” want to say that everyone knows what an A is and what an F is, in this provisional or preliminary system they don’t. As I am typing this right now, I don’t even know what an A or F is… and I really don’t know what a B, C or D means.

I’ve read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I know that Hester was not ordered to wear a solitary letter as a way for others to encourage her. It was not meant to motivate her to do better. The letter she was told to wear was meant to label and shame.

When I taught my girls to ride a bike and to drive a car, I didn’t label them or compare them. I did just like we do in our schools. I taught them the knowledge and skills necessary. I provided lots of practice with encouraging and honest feedback. We didn’t stop until they mastered the task.

I didn’t decide on a test date where I stopped all instruction and said, “Here’s your grade. I’m sorry you didn’t learn as fast as your sister who earned a better grade.”

Also, as a parent and now as a superintendent, it would be silly for me to think that my children’s efforts or even grades in school could be simplified to one overall grade for the entire year.

So, what do you say to people in the grocery store or at church after the labels for your school are posted in the media? First, become familiar with our A-F fact sheet. Then, I suggest that you share how you use data in your classroom as a way to identify strengths and weaknesses and help scholars learn what they need to know to be successful. Explain how you use assignments and assessments throughout the year, not just a once-a-year standardized test, to develop a whole picture of each student. Talk about the academic, fine arts, athletic and other opportunities your school provides to grow scholars into thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors… just like our community wants us to do.

Of course, our schools will dive deep into learning more about the data used in the grade calculations because that’s what we routinely do. But, you also know—as someone who works with and cares about each individual scholar in AISD—that we aren’t going to rank or label our schools or our scholars based on a provisional, oversimplified state-imposed system that does not provide more resources or support for the work you do each day. In AISD, we are more than a label. We are more than a grade.

#MoreThanAGrade