Together We Can

Together We Can. I love the word “together.” Together is the way we do work in the Amarillo ISD. Collaboration has been a part of our culture for a very long time.

Together We Can.  That sentence reminds me of the Little Engine That Could. In that story, with the help of a friend, the engine that was struggling to get across the mountain reached his goal. “I think I can” turned into “I knew we could” when a friend stepped in to help.

Together We Can. In the Amarillo ISD, we empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and CONTRIBUTORS. A contributor is one who helps others across the mountains that life presents. A contributor is one who makes a difference.

Together We Can. Yes, together the Amarillo ISD community and the High Plains Food Bank certainly “can.” We demonstrate this every year during the holiday season food drives. We cherish the opportunity to give our scholars real-life ways to show they are contributors.

When we believe that Together We Can, we do.

Together We Can, a holiday food and fund drive in its 22nd year, happens December 4-9 at Market Street in Amarillo. During this special season, everyone in the community comes together to provide food and hope for the 1 in 7 who struggles with food insecurity. Grocery shoppers can begin giving now at the register of any United Supermarket, Amigos, or Market Street in the Texas Panhandle. Financial donations will be matched by the United Family, up to $10,000. 

Pep Talk

Pep talks are awesome. We all have “those” days when we need a pep talk. Days that challenge us are made better when someone steps up with words of affirmation.

Words matter. This father knows that.

Jessica knows sometimes one has to create a self pep talk.

Even Kid President knows we all need a pep talk.

Enjoy the “pep talk” printed below that Billie Bates shared with her school (and gave me permission to share with you):

It has been a hard couple of months on a personal level for me, but as my daughter likes to say, “It’s going to take a lot more than that to get me down.”  I just love her fighting attitude.  I like to think she gets that from me. 

My mom called me this weekend to check on me (she lives 4 hours away) and I guess I will never outgrow needing her.  She ended up telling me things that we all sometimes neglect saying to each other.  I wanted to tell you them because we all need these reminders about why we do what we do. I’m in a difficult season right now and I know some of you are too.   Teachers are superheroes and I am blessed to work with each and every one of you. I’m not saying that because I’m a teacher.  I’m saying that because I am a parent and I have first-hand experience on how hard my kids’ teachers work to help my kids be successful beyond high school.  I have also seen my kids’ teachers pour their hearts into me and my kids during a season of grief when they were younger.   Here are some things I was reminded of and I want to give you all the same encouragement:  

  • You have a good, kind heart.
  • You know your students on a very personal level because of their needs.
  • Your students are in your class because they need you.
  • You are meant to be where you are; you have a gift and a talent and a calling for what you do and I admire you.
  • I am so proud of you.
  • You are going to be okay.

 To add to that, I want to share this quote that I heard on TV this week for a promo for the new show, Swat:  “If you want things to change, you have to go out there and be the change.”

 Don’t give up.  Remember your goals.  Keep moving forward.  Our scholars need us.  Have a great week! Have a Blessed Day!

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Learn. Laugh. Lead. Live. Who do you know that needs to smile and laugh? In this season where we focus on giving… let’s give some “pep talks” and encourage each other. 

Thank you. The work you do is important. I just wanted to say so. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

In Charge

I was at Travis 6th when I joyfully got caught up in reading our scholars’ work that was displayed in the hall. After I read what they wrote, I felt validation regarding our vision of EMPOWERING scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. They are on their way to being in charge of the world. They are capable of this momentous responsibility. I trust them.

Their destiny is also our future. They will be the moms, dads, employees, bosses, volunteers, legislators and world-changers who impact our lives. I’m honored that we are entrusted with the opportunity to encourage our scholars to learn, laugh and lead the way. Living is definitely about success beyond high school.

Read their words. I promise you will be joyfully absorbed, just as I was.

 

 

No Excuses Means…

A question I ask other leaders I work with is this, “What are you leading for?” Every leader should be able to articulate vision and focus. Leaders must always be thoughtful regarding how they balance the “pressure” of moving folks forward alongside the “support” necessary to accomplish goals.

I am leading for our scholars to be college, career and/or military ready. Well, that’s just one thing I’m leading for, but I wanted you to be certain about it. “What’s your plan?” is not some empty question or cute poster to me.

A few weeks ago, Mr. John Smith, Tascosa High School Principal, wrote the message below for the THS staff. To me, his challenge to them was inspiring and motivational. I am posting it because I think his message is worth a wider audience. Enjoy!

Tascosa Staff,

 I want to thank our counselors and college career crew for getting 100% of our seniors applied for college.  It is the first step to in the process of attending a college.  As part of our NEU commitment, we want students striving to be the best they can be. 

Now, I want to push you as a staff.  Behind every symbol is a substance of work required to support the symbol.  I want us to reflect on that a minute.  What is the substance for a student to attend and be successful in college?  I am sure you can come up with a myriad of thoughts but when I think of college, I think of going to class and studying.  There are other sidebars to college that we might think of, but in the end I am paying money to receive a diploma that will get me a job.  To break that down further, can a student have the tools to read, write, reason and persevere through the challenge of college?

What is the substance to our symbol of signing every student up for college? What is our role in building the substance in our students to not only get accepted to college, but to be successful in college or career? 

I have said many times that the most important place on this campus is the classroom.  The classroom is where the rubber meets the road.  Students learn content but also learn how to learn.  Students learn how to think, communicate, collaborate and contribute to the classroom culture.  It is important for us to not only teach content but plan lessons that engage students in the content.  Challenges, curiosity and expectations will push students to learn more.  Confidence in their brain is crucial to academic success.  Confidence does not come from menial tasks, but from tasks that push the limits, give value to their opinion, and allow them to have success in critically thinking.  It does not matter if it is a top student or one of our lowest.  All students can “grow smartness.”  As you plan, think about content and instruction.  Are we planning for conceptual understanding?  How we teach it, how we engage students, how we provide feedback based on learning, and how we model the learning process will be the difference maker in the substance.

Academic confidence gets students into the game and the belief that “I can continue my education after high school.”

I have again attached the system of instruction that we are to follow.  The plan keeps us grounded in making sure we cover the appropriate curriculum; we have a plan for assessing the learning and a guideline for improving instruction. 

In Damen Lopez’s first book Turnaround Schools, he talks repeatedly about the goal of a campus is to have a “Culture of Universal Achievement.”  I have listed the tenets of that below.

The overriding belief at a school that embraces a culture of universal achievement is that every student is capable of academic proficiency, and that the primary responsibility for making that proficiency a reality rests with the adults.  (Do we believe we can grow smartness in every student?)

No responsible educator can say that it is impossible for high-poverty children to be high-achieving students because it is happening today in schools across America.  The only question is, quite simply, does a principal and his teachers have the passion and determination to make same dream a reality at their school?

A courageous principal and equally courageous teacher-leaders encourage the creation of a culture of universal achievement by focusing relentlessly on student academic achievement and by leading positive conversations with their colleagues.  (We are in control of our relentless effort and we are in control of our conversations.  Do we self-monitor each other to change the conversations “from complaining to how we can solve this problem?”  I believe We are the variable and We are the research.)

A culture of universal achievement is firmly in place when the following beliefs and practices are held by the teachers and the principal:

Every student will be proficient in reading, writing and mathematics.  (You can expand that for us to say career paths, certificates, job ready, TSI and other markers that our students can achieve.)

The academic accomplishment of every student is an obsession. 

The school can neutralize many challenges students bring to the classroom.  (The classroom is a safe place where students thrive as learners and see hope for the futureWe provide stability to many students who do not have it outside of our walls.)

Student achievement is the number one topic of conversation.  (If our students are serving the community are they learning?  Yes.  Our band is striving to receive a division 1 rating in marching, are they achieving? Yes.  Students in my class are working to raise their scores on tests that show learning.  Yes.)

A maverick spirit leads the way.

There are no excuses for poor effort.

As your principal, I am very proud of reaching our goal of having 100% of students applied for college. But, with that, I am burdened by the thought of, “Are they prepared to be successful in college, a career or a job?”  Remember, behind every symbol is a substance of work required to support the symbol.  You impact students.  You are the variable.  Every day, every class, every student matters to the long term success of our students.  Our scholars need us!

Get Attention: Vote!

These are voting numbers from a past election in Texas. Note the age and the percentage of those who voted in each age group.

AGE Number in TX Percentage
18 to 24 13,282 0.9
25 to 34 49,331 3.5
35 to 44 98,696 7
45 to 54 194,485 13.9
55 to 64 336,486 24.1
65 & over 701,663 50.3

While I know that “age” doesn’t necessarily correspond with the “number of years of teaching experience,” I do think it is important to look at the 2015-16 data for Amarillo ISD which shows us this:

# of Years Teaching Experience 

Number of Teachers

   Percentage

0

115

5.1

1 to 5

595

26.2

6 to 10

506

22.3

11 to 20

619

27.2

Over 20

435

19.2

Total

2270

100

As I advocated for YOU, our schools, and public education in the past legislative session, I heard OVER AND OVER again that legislators are not listening closely to educators because educators don’t VOTE in the numbers they need to in order to get anyone’s attention.

The next election is November 7. Early voting is October 23 to November 3. 

Improve Your Sight

My predecessor, Rod Schroder, bequeathed some rose-colored glasses to me when he retired. Long story short…his sentiment was for me to stay positive.

In August, we experienced the Total Solar Eclipse 2017. If you wanted to take a gander at that, special glasses were required.

As a leader, I know it’s important to stay positive, and to use tools that can help protect the institution from harm. I also know that there are a variety of angles from which to view things, and I know perspective often comes from what I have learned or what my experiences have been.

I wear glasses. They aren’t rose-colored and they aren’t necessarily for safety. They do help me see things I’d miss otherwise. They do ensure that I get a clearer picture.  As I contemplate our Amarillo ISD vision, I also think about what one must be able to visualize in order to be a thinker, communicator, collaborator and contributor. The word vision itself connotes being able to see something, whether it’s a mental image or something you see with your eyes.

For me, before I can think, communicate, collaborate or contribute, I feel I have to see the big picture or at least have some sort of background or foundational knowledge.  This year, in Amarillo ISD, we are particularly focused on building a strong foundation in literacy.  Educators see a lot of things in the word ‘literacy’, but I’m most proud of the focus on phonics as a part of balanced literacy for our smallest scholars, the use of conferencing and conferring to boost middle school literacy, and the attention on sophisticated text and high-yield strategies for our high-schoolers.

I believe the prosperity of our District is reinforced by the support of our community. Our successes are not some magic illusion or distant mirage. In our District and community, we view the best in others through the lens of contribution and service.

Visualize this. We learn, laugh, lead and live so we can watch our families, neighbors, colleagues and friends triumph.

What are you learning this year so that you can spot opportunity?

Get a glimpse of what our United Way does in the area of education here.

Take a look at some of our District successes here.

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!”