President Obama writes to GA middle school principal

President Obama writes to GA middle school principal

I love to see when our educators have so much pride in their schools and their kids. And even better when people of importance take notice. Brian Suits, principal at Dalton Middle School completed an application for GA Principal of the year – and he won for 2015-2016. He applied because he wanted to promote the success his school has had such as improving tests scores and overcoming a bad economy that had put many of his students into poverty. When he won, he believed that he would be going to Washington DC, as each winner had in the years prior. This year, GA sent only one representative and it was the GA High School Principal of the Year.

Suits was upset because he had told he his students he was going to go to Washington DC. Instead of disappointing them, he wrote letters to express his thoughts – to Governor Deal, to the National Association of Secondary Principals, GA state superintendent and President Obama. He didn’t mail them at first, and as he edited them they became less about his opportunity to go to Washington and more about the successes his school had accomplished. Over the summer, he decided to mail the letters, after yet another school tragedy.

While the White House receives over 20,000 letters per day, Suits letter made it in the daily 10 letter pile to the President.  And the President wrote back.

suits_and_letterr

Suits letter mentioned just some of the things happening at his school:

He wrote about Luis Orozco, now a freshman at Dalton High, who picked up garbage after his wrestling match so the custodians wouldn’t have to stay late.

He wrote about a receptionist they tutored so she could get her U.S. citizenship.

He wrote about a student who asked if Suits could be “sort of be like his dad” since he was living with a single mother.

He wrote about climbing tests scores and becoming the first Literacy Collaborative middle school in the United States.

Suits also mentioned Dalton Middle School’s groundbreaking sensory room (there are only around 10-12 of these rooms in schools around the nation) — a room designed to calm and sooth autistic children when they have an outburst.

Suits talks about the response to the President’s letter:

On Sept. 11, Suits was going through his mail when he came to a large envelope from the White House. As Suits read the letter, he realized it wasn’t just a form letter. Obama himself had actually read his letter.

“He mentioned kids’ names and things I said in the letter,” Suits said.  “I’m shocked he even read it.”

Suits told the teachers and students who had designed the sensory room that the president had mentioned their work in his letter. “They got very emotional. One teacher teared up,” said Suits.

Both Robertson and Ross said they called their parents to tell that their work had been mentioned by the president of the United States. “Out of millions of people, he knows us,” said Ross.

“It’s crazy because the president knows about me. He knows what I did at school and knows about my work,” Robertson said.

Suits also made a trip to Dalton High to show Orozco the letter.

“When I got to the part where his name is, his eyes teared up. He said, ‘He knows my name,’” said Suits.

An excellent quote from Suits letter applies to all schools: “Our kids are underestimated at every turn, but they have so, so much to teach us. We just need to value their voices, and listen.”

It’s not about content it’s about learning to learn whatever you want

It’s not about content it’s about learning to learn whatever you want

This week at the Global Citizen Festival, Michelle Obama encouraged concert goers to take selfies and share them with something they learned in school with the hash tag #62milliongirls. This effort is to spread awareness for the 62 Million Girls Campaign.

Let Girls Learn

Let Girls Learn is a U.S. government-wide initiative launched by the President and First Lady that seeks to help the more than 62 million girls around the world who are not in school– half of whom are adolescent – go to school and stay in school. These girls have diminished economic opportunities and are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, early and forced marriage, and other forms of violence. Yet, when a girl receives a quality education, she is more likely to earn a decent living, raise a healthy, educated family, and improve the quality of life for herself, her family, and her community.

A key part of Let Girls Learn is to encourage and support community-led solutions to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.

62 million girls michelle obama

I can relate with Michelle Obama’s tweet. I can’t say for sure, but I think that going to an all girls college helped my confidence and I wonder if I would have had the same experience at a co-ed school.

This is my tweet:

62 million girls tweet

I don’t remember much about what I actually learned in school, but I learned how to find and utilize any information that I need to do anything I need to do. I can’t pinpoint the time that I really started to believe in improving education, but I always believed in telling the truth and that all kids deserve a great education. I want them to have more guidance than I had, better teachers, and more hope than I had in school. I feel like college gave me those tools to learn how to gain the information and knowledge I need to be successful – its about process, not content. That’s what I want kids to learn – how to do great things, so that when they are ready, they will know what to do!

Three of the World’s smartest teens from Georgia

Three of the World’s smartest teens from Georgia

This FB post came across my newsfeed and I had to read it.

teen triple majors at Morehouse

It’s amazing that a teenager can get three majors at Morehouse College and graduate from Medical School by the age of 22. And his picture looks so young! I’m impressed – and from Georgia! We spend a great deal of time talking about how we often aren’t meeting our kids educational needs, it’s good to see our successes. Here is Stephen R. Stafford II’s story from the World’s 50 Smartest Teens from 2013:

You will find Stephen R. Stafford II’s Facebook page fascinating enough. While many teens his age are skimping homework for Facebook time, Stephen is earning credits toward his triple major — pre-med, computer science, and mathematics — at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Stephen started at Morehouse College at 11 years of age because his mother, who was homeschooling him, could not keep up with his potential. The college student is also a talented classical pianist; he began to play the piano at the age of two.

When asked about his exceptional abilities, the teen replies: “I’m just like any other kid. I just learn very, very quickly.”

Due to a Georgia law which requires a student to be 16 to graduate from high school, Stephen will receive his high school diploma one year before he receives his college degrees. The talented teen intends to go on to Morehouse’s School of Medicine, specializing in obstetrics and infertility.

He should graduate from medical school when he is 22.

Here are two more stories of awesome GA students:

Sitan “Stan” Chen, 17, Georgia, USA

In 2011, Sitan Chen won third prize, a modest $40,000, in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for research that advanced studies in mathematical graphs and how computers multi-task data.

The 2011 win followed Sitan’s win in 2010 at the same competition. Sitan managed a team which shared the $20,000 prize for solving a math challenge which reportedly stumped mathematicians for 70 years. His double win set a record for Sitan as the first student in the 13-year history of the event to receive back-to-back Siemens Competition national awards.

He is also a talented violinist and pianist; he performed at Carnegie Hall not once, but six times. Sitan said he sees music as “a form of problem solving.” He adds: “It’s a chance to tackle challenges related to technique, structure, and interpretation using creativity and intellectual rigor, and at the same time, it’s a way to communicate what words cannot.”

Sitan is currently a freshman at Harvard studying economics and math. He’s a member of the Harvard Glee Club and an analyst in the Harvard College Consulting Group, providing consulting services for businesses, non-profit organizations, and student groups.

Sitan wants to become a university professor.

Erin King, 19, Georgia, USA

When Erin King, then a senior at Columbus High School, received her early acceptance letter to MIT, the college issued a challenge to the class of 2016: Try to “hack” your admission letters. However, they advised the future freshmen not to break into any of MIT’s secure networks, even though most of the newly accepted students probably knew how or could figure out how to do it.

Erin explained: “At MIT, hacking is basically performing a prank or just doing something really cool and unexpected.”

Erin had been active for years in her high school’s balloon launch research club. She is also a seasoned ham, or amateur, radio person and knew she could relay the balloon’s coordinates from a vehicle below. She had a “hacking” strategy: Send her acceptance letter into space or close as possible to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

Her “hack” worked. Erin’s capsule containing the acceptance letter was fully loaded with a camera and tracking devices and touched down safely near her intended landing site, after reaching a maximum altitude of 91,000 feet (~17.2 miles). She had fun celebrating her admission and, Erin stated: “The project ended up getting a lot more publicity than I anticipated.”

Erin is definitely a ham: She has achieved the level of Extra, the highest distinction in ham radio operation and named the 2012 Amateur Radio Newsline‘s Young Ham of the Year.

Oh, yeah, Erin is also a robotics enthusiast, a cat lover, and a certified scuba diver.

Today, Erin is a sophomore at MIT where she studies computer science and electrical engineering. She is happy that she was able to bring Maui, her cat, along with her, since MIT has a few cat-friendly dorms.

The one other thought that comes to my mind is that, maybe I could have had a chance to be one of these great students. Or, if I had even half the encouragement, or half to counseling from my counselor – maybe I could have been farther than I am now. It reminds me that there is so much more to accomplish. And that every child deserves the opportunity to have the encouragement and resources to reach their full potential. It’s why I work in school counseling.

Here’s a great note to end the list of the 50 smartest teens:

If you are under 21, you still have a chance to make this list or one like it, one day. Here are a few suggestions to bring out your genius and inspire you to greatness:

  • Mensa International, http://www.mensa.com: Try out some of the tests on their website to see how you compare to others

  • Get involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities at your high school; join a local math or science team to participate in science fairs, tournaments, and olympiads

  • Seek out advanced placement (AP) courses and other ways of challenging your mind and natural abilities

  • Do you have a specific passion, hobby, or talent? Look for ways to stretch your interests, develop your skills, and compete with talented people

Changes to school wide performance grading

I’m not sure where the healthy medium is between adjusting grading measures to be as far and accurate as possible and when we have made so many grading changes that no one can tell what level any schools are performing at.

AJC writer Ty Tagami reports that the Georgia Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to amend the “weights” used in calculating school performance, downplaying raw test achievement in favor of “growth” in the state’s report card for schools and school districts.

By basing the schoolwide grades on growth vs actual test scores (as much) it should help some schools that dont have high scores but are making progress. Odd thing is that this might actually decrease some scores for higher performing schools because they don’t have as much growth to report (because they already have so many high performing students.) One day we may figure this out!

But the new changes in the school report card are expected to reshuffle rankings for other reasons: Schools with large numbers of low-income students, since they tend to score lower on achievement tests, will likely move up while traditionally high-achieving schools will probably take a hit. That’s because achievement, which counted for 60 percent of CCRPI until now, will count for 50 percent next time. Meanwhile, “progress” — a complicated measure of where each student performed relative to academically similar peers, will count for 40 percent. Until now, that measure, often referred to as growth, was only a quarter of the report card.

The new scoring system also downplays the importance of closing the achievement gap for at-risk groups, dropping the weight in that category from 15 percent to 10 percent.

These new changes are the latest sign of the diminishing influence of raw test scores on schools’ perceived performance. In the recent past, achievement counted for 70 percent of the CCRPI measure.

This will readjust the scores that are being used to determine which schools would be eligible for the opportunity school district which will be on the ballot for voters in 2016 – if not taken down with lawsuits first.

GA may overhaul teacher pay

GA may overhaul teacher pay

I’ve always wondered how teacher pay scales started and were implemented. I understood that with a teacher’s union contract it is all laid out in the contract. But in states where there is no official union and it is a right to work state, I’ve often wondered how teacher pay scales got involved.

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

As it turns out, these teacher pay scales have usually been entered as a law through the state legislature and the contract process is somewhat unnecessary. Here in GA teachers are paid by number of years on the job and educational level of attainment. That’s all. This generally creates an uneven balance where veteran teachers are making a lot of money while newer teachers are making much less. Quality of teaching has nothing to do with the pay.

Under the current system, in place for decades, teachers are paid based on their years on the job and their education level. Their salaries rise according to a fixed state schedule that specifies minimum pay, though some districts pay above that.

Deal wants to free up money so teachers can be paid more if they perform better or if they are teaching subjects — science, math — in which there is high demand for their talents.

But Deal also doesn’t want a formula that costs more, and the money for high performers would have to come from somewhere, like lower-performing teachers.

It sounds like the process will be a slow one IF implemented at all, because the new salaries are only effective to new teachers and those who opt into this system.

Some suggest that it may not help with recruitment and retention, if the teachers feel the system isn’t working on their behalf. But the Governor wants us to be able to take some of the money from an ineffective tenured teacher and provide it to a newer teacher who is performing at the proficient and exemplary stage.

This new proposal is only in the incubation stage and far from being enacted into policy. It would have to win approval of the General Assembly, and before that it would have to emerge as a formal recommendation from Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Charles Knapp, who chairs both the full commission and the funding subcommittee, was careful to describe the subcommittee’s support for this proposal as only a “preliminary consensus.”

Next, officials will calculate the effect on each district, which could alter the debate. Also important is the reaction of teachers, whom Georgia is working to recruit and retain. (One of the commission’s other subcommittee’s is tasked with figuring out how to do that better.) Hames and other officials have said current teachers will be grandfathered under the current pay structure if they choose, but they acknowledge the state can’t make an ironclad promise.

While this is not perfect, and is nowhere near ready to be implemented, I think it is a good conversation to have. We need to have more incentives and opportunities for newer teachers who may be as good or better than some of our veteran teachers. I have seen plenty of veteran teachers who aren’t effective in today’s environment and we need the tools to make appropriate adjustments.

This shouldn’t be seen as an “attack” on teachers – it’s about making sure ALL of our kids have an effective teacher. Our public schools are not an employment agency, we need to make sure our kids receive a high quality education. They need to be able to grow into productive members of society, because right now too many are not.

Quality of education lacks with grade changing

Yesterday I wrote about grade changing in an Atlanta HS. Aside from the responsibility of those involved, it brings larger perspective thoughts to mind.

group of african american university students in lecture hall

What is the quality of education that goes along with a situation that ends up with grade changing?

I know that many school personnel are preoccupied with day to day responsibilities, of which I would normally call babysitting because I have seen too many ineffective schools and teachers, but someone needs to be looking at the bigger picture.

The technical interview stories revolved around a few key issues regarding grades.

  • Even though there was  “instruction” and “packets of work” none of the substitutes actually recorded any grades
  • Ms. Martin wanted to be fair to the students who showed up and did the “packets” that they deserve some credit. Apparently it is unfair to fail students who never received adequate instruction.
  • Dr. Smith the principal points out that you can’t fail a student who was not given a fair notice of the failing grade (I guess that is what the mid semester grading period is for?)

What I would like to know is how did Ms. Martin and Dr. Smith allow 12 weeks of virtually ineffective “instruction” and “packets” in order to create a situation where no grades could be reported?

So they didn’t get instruction so you can’t fail them, not their fault, but they still need grades – nevermind that they lost 12 weeks of adequate instruction!

Then when they are making up grades the registrar brings up that all the students shouldn’t get the same grades because so were absent more than others, some did more work than others. Apparently there is or at least was a policy that when grades could not be determined all students get an 80 or 85.

No one seemed to be bothered that the students clearly did not receive any adequate education for 12 weeks.

This should also help lead to a real overhaul of substitutes and hopefully also employ some training for substitutes. In DeKalb, I couldn’t even get in as a substitute, then a year later I hear that DeKalb has classrooms without subs because no subs want the jobs.

Still, what about the student’s clear lack of quality education? No one was willing to take responsibility for that.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Huffington Post reported on a Superintendent’s Summit this past May. The writer proposes 3 ideas that would change our schools. The first is one I am very much a fan of – changing teacher education programs.

Ok, that is not exactly what he says, he says there is a paradigm where the gifted students have all the resources and great teachers and the new teachers usually start with the most challenging students and fewest resources and support.

New teachers should first start with gifted students and the best-behaved classes in order to prepare for more challenging classrooms. Teaching the gifted students should not be a reward that educators are able to cash-in after many years of service, but rather the education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

How does he propose that would occur? In union run states it’s near impossible to fire a teacher, let alone reassign veteran teachers to underperforming students and slide the new teachers in. Even in states like GA where there are no unions, the teacher step system and nepotism rule over the system to the point where the writer’s suggestion is virtually impossible to implement.

Secondly, I am not sure that working with gifted, well behaved students would prepare a teacher to work with challenging students. There are certain mindsets, behavior management strategies, educational learning practices, patience and caring for EVERY student that a teacher must possess to succeed in challenging classrooms. Those are not skills learned in teacher education and not gained working with well behaved students. The right teacher education program and the right learning experiences through student teaching must be obtained at a minimum.

I would also argue that sending veteran teachers to work with challenging classrooms proves part of my point. They may not have gained those skills necessary to manage the behavior of a challenging classroom and if they believe they have, they may operate like a prison or the military instead of instilling hope and opportunity to our students. This is also because the description of challenging classrooms has evolved over time to a much different environment than any of our veterans teachers ever grew up with. School is much different than when I attended and I am only 30 years old.

Also, who says those veteran teachers will even agree to teach those students? They may retire or quit if they are forced out of their cozy advanced students classes. I really don’t see logistically or practically how this would work.

Right now, teacher education programs are short maybe 30 credits, about one year. Student teaching programs run from a couple of weeks, to a 6 month stint, sometimes one year (first time I saw this was Clark University in Worcester, MA). While they have classes on pedagogy, they rarely cover psychological, social-emotional skills or education learning disorders. My ability as a school counselor to assist students and teachers with student learning is derived from my ability to understand psychology first and implementation of curriculum second. Then a teacher can come from a place of understanding “why” a child isn’t learning and not just managing their behavior to gain compliance on school work.

I recently wrote about how we need to have the right teachers in the right place at the right time. I am hopeful that this was the essence of his statement. Also maybe we could have the student teaching performed at challenging schools, so where ever a new teachers teaches he/she may have some of the experience they need. But, with so many ineffective teachers in challenging schools, I am not sure I want our student teachers learning from those teachers either.