#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

#IAmTXEd

picture paintingThe Texas Education Agency has a social media campaign called #IAmTXEd. Last week, when I met with our AISD Superintendent’s Ambassadors, I asked them to tell me about the teachers who inspire them.

This is an email I got from Linh Vo. I asked her if I could share her email on my blog and she gave me permission. I bet you’ll enjoy her words as much as I did.

Dear Sir or Ma’am,

My name is Linh Vo. I am a sophomore from Palo Duro High School, part of Amarillo Independent School District.

I am writing this email to share the story of my English teacher, Mrs. Aduddell, who taught me in freshman year.

She is a remarkable person, very loving, attentive, and intelligent. She impressed me so much that I once told her that I know I will never forget her.

My first impression of her was that she was a very organized and relaxed person. Unlike other classrooms, she decorated her classroom like it was her home. She painted it blue and green, which are very calm colors that help students relax and learn comfortably. She grew plants in there as well.

I was an immigrant and did not speak fluent English. Very often, people asked me to repeat myself. To make mistakes in front of others constantly and consciously, it felt horrible! It was not very easy to find a person patient enough to listen to my slow English, but I did find those people. One of them is now my best friend, the other was Mrs. Aduddell. She allowed me time to find the correct word, and always responded kindly and wisely.

On my birthday that year, I expected no one to wish me a happy birthday. I did not have lots of friends. It was also not my family’s tradition. But Mrs. Aduddell surprised me with a flower origami and a small bracelet. Turned out she wrote all of her students’ birthdays in her calendar and prepared gifts beforehand. They were very simple but it was the first time anyone paid attention to my birthday; it was a pretty memorable moment.

Gradually, I became fond of her. Mrs. Aduddell has that kind of vibe that make people around her calm and happy. She is my role model. I have learned a lot from her.

This year, I made a watercolor portrait of Mrs. Aduddell for Thanksgiving (I have attached below her picture and my painting), and she is drawing me back as well. I am looking forward to receive it!

Thank you for reading,

Linh Vo

More than a Grade

img_2240I read an article about Tim Tebow recently. You might know Tebow as the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Maybe you remember him as the NFL quarterback with the lowest passing completion rate in the league.

In the article I read, he shared how easy it was in life’s tough moments to question who he really is. He said, “When my NFL career was crumbling, at times I’d wonder…am I the person who won the Heisman Trophy? Or am I the person who has been told over and over by so-called analysts that I can’t throw?”

I am always honored to visit our AISD campuses. I know how diligently everyone works to meet and exceed our mission and our vision for our scholars. From custodial and cafeteria staff to secretaries, substitutes, assistants, teachers and administrators, everyone is doing Heisman Trophy worthy work daily. At our ESC offices, from purchasing to print shop and everywhere in between, it’s pretty awesome when we all know we win each time a campus prepares students for success beyond high school by empowering them to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. Check my twitter feed to see examples of #AISDinnov8ive campuses/staffs across our city.

And then comes the new A-F rating system. While we knew that a new rating system was on the way (it was approved in the 84th legislative session as a part of the lengthy HB 2804), we didn’t know exactly what we’d be rated on until a few days ago. You might note that we won’t know the methodology for this new system until Dec. 16. You can read more here: TASA. I highly recommend that everyone read these Talking Points.

Superintendents and educators across the state were disheartened that A-F made it into HB 2804. Unfortunately  it did and now it’s time for “provisional” A-F reports to be shared with legislators on Dec. 30, districts on January 4 and the public on January 6. As educators who value each of our schools and our scholars, I believe that it will be hurtful/harmful for us to buy into these ratings too quickly. I just can’t yet see how the long and complex A-F List of Indicators released on Dec. 1 can be boiled down into one, simplistic letter grade. I’m scratching my head regarding the fact that we won’t know the methodology for our “grades” until Dec. 16, and we’ll need to attempt to explain all of this to our scholars and their parents on Jan. 6, when we just learned the grades two days before.

As I shared last week with principals, there’ve been groups who have speculated what schools and their grades might look like. To be honest, every speculative look I’ve seen has run along the economic lines of the school population. When we see the methodology on the 16th, I’m hoping everyone who has been running these reports will be wrong. A rating system that targets poverty schools with poor grades is not good for anyone, especially the scholars and teachers in these schools who work diligently each day to prepare every student for success.

If you follow sports at all, you probably remember that while in the NFL Tim Tebow was often criticized or ridiculed for his beliefs. So in the article I was reading, he went on to talk about identity. Was he labeled a successful college quarterback or was he an NFL failure? He stated, “While I may have gotten hurt, disappointed, or frustrated by the negative side of life’s equations, my foundation didn’t have to change.”

As we see the labels come out with this new rating system, I want to remind you that our foundation doesn’t have to change either. Our identity isn’t (and should not be) determined by the political rhetoric and maneuvering placed on us by others in Austin. To the contrary, our identity is in the extraordinary work we do in Amarillo classrooms everyday, in the difficult obstacles we overcome, in the individual lives and futures we change one scholar at a time. We know your children enter our schools with a promise for a better tomorrow, and we want them to leave with their own plan for a successful future. Who are we? As teachers and as parents, I encourage you to find your school’s identity based on your own experiences at a campus and not on an oversimplified grade or label placed on us. Just like we all know to be true of our own children, we are all so much more than just a grade. Be proud because we have reason to be… together we are AISD.

Dreams Into Plans

img_2243I have a notebook that is decorated with the words, “She turned her can’ts into cans & her dreams into plans.”

Each time I visit a campus, I am reminded about how YOU help our scholars turn their can’ts into cans and their dreams into What’s Your Plan? Please watch this video to feel really proud and inspired by our partnership with No Limits No Excuses and to view information about the wonderful app created just for our scholars.

I get to see your handiwork, but THE WORLD needs to hear about the positive impact of your #AISDinnov8ive work. Please see the information below. Send in your stories. Send in a colleague’s story.

We are #IAmTXEd and we #AISDinnov8. Our scholars are empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. They are empowered by caring educators who turn can’ts into cans & dreams into WHAT’S YOUR PLAN?!

TEA Seeks Uplifting Educator Stories

TEA is launching a statewide social media campaign, #IAmTXEd, to tell the remarkable stories of Texas educators. The agency is seeking stories that:

  • demonstrate rigorous and rewarding classroom experiences
  • are rooted in student achievement, a love for learning, and personal growth
  • highlight the critical role that educators play in the lives of students
  • that involve a “human element” and go beyond success in a typical class or on a test

Educators may email their stories (about 300 words) and a photo (or two) that visually captures the story to lauren.callahan@tea.texas.gov. Please include the campus and district. TEA will choose a story to share statewide each week via TEA social media accounts using the hashtag #IAmTXEd.

No Bones About It

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I had a insightful visit with a teacher late Friday afternoon. Mostly I listened and reflected as she reminded me about the work of teachers. As she spoke regarding her scholars’ data, she teared up with stories related to their lives at home, as well as their academic/social/emotional struggles and celebrations at school. She said, “My students aren’t only numbers. They are names.”

Don’t get me wrong. This teacher wasn’t complaining about her job. She wasn’t bemoaning all of the many responsibilities of being a teacher. She was really sharing her heart about the work required of our professionals as they support our scholars.

Yes. Professionals.

Just like I call our students “scholars,” I also refer to teachers as “professionals.” There are lots of dictionary definitions of what constitutes a professional, but my favorite definition is: a person who is expert at his or her work.

So… this year Amarillo ISD has a  new vision. Of course, our mission has always been to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. We know that. It’s been in our hearts for a long time.

But, my Friday conversation with that teacher brought our vision to my mind. Amarillo ISD empowers our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. I hope we do the same for our professionals. Our scholars and our professionals must be empowered to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors.

No bones about it… AISD is fearlessly moving into 21st century learning. #AISDinnov8

 

Mission First. People Always.

I recently attended an event at Pantex. One cool thing about going to anything at Pantex is that they are going to take your cell phone and your Apple Watch away from you. It’s nice to be free from distractions. I should try it more often. But, that’s not what this blog post is about.

Today, I’m with my daughter because she gave birth to a precious baby girl on August 26. By the way, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day…which I thought made Aria’s birthdate double cool. But, that’s not what this post is about either.

Anyway, while at Pantex, I heard them say several times, “Mission first. People always.”

Right now, I’m thinking it’s pretty special that the mission of Amarillo ISD is to graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school. And, as a Lolli*, I am pretty thankful that AISD’s mission, and OUR HEARTS, demonstrate MISSION and PEOPLE all in the same sentence.

But, mostly, I am shamelessly using this blog post so you can see a picture of my granddaughter AND to note that she’s swaddled in a wrap by “Blankets & Beyond.” Blankets and beyond…isn’t that what we do? We wrap our arms, resources, plans, actions, etc. around our scholars so when they leave us they are prepared for success beyond.

Mission first. People always. Blankets and beyond!

*I’m Lolli and Randy is Pops. Lolli and Pops are a team… and far too young and hip to be called granny and gramps. Ha!

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