Thoughts on the Superintendent’s raise

Well,  the other night the Lunenburg School Committee voted to give Calmes a “MASSIVE” raise.  The reported this yesterday.  At the same time it was reported that we are currently under a budget crunch and shortfall yet again.  The amount of outrage I have heard from the community is palpable and frankly, taken at face value, I would be annoyed too!  But then again, I am more of a long term strategic thinker and am looking beyond the next 2 years and actually beyond the next 5 years….and you should too!

For the supporters this will be met with applause.  For the superintendent haters the will be accused of fiscal negligence.  For those who could care less, this will barely be a blip on the radar.

I am in a different camp. I am a school committee member.  I neither like nor dislike our superintendent.  I am in the camp that needs to think strategically about the well being of the district beyond the next 2 years and the perceived massive raise that will be robbing children of educational opportunities.

As a leader of a large marketing organization for a publicly traded company, I am constantly under budget pressures and pressure from my employees for more money.  Some of my long term employees are paid well under market value.  If any of them were to resign, I would be forced to go to the well for up to a 50% increase in salary. That would go over like a “fart in church” with our CFO.

As I sat there debating what to do about superintendent Calmes, it occurred to me she may have enough of the local politics and throw in the towel.  Then what?  What would that mean for the school committee?  Would we be in a position where we need to approach the town manager saying:  By the way, it is going to cost us 50%  more to replace her?  So, I did a little fact finding.

(Source State Department of education)

The top superintendent salary in the state:  Boston @$283,500, followed by Newton @ $229K, Wellesley @ $218K and Lawrence @ $209K.

But these districts are so much larger than ours.  I looked for comparable size based on # of students.  Here is what I found:  Whittier Regional Tech with 1,145 @ $173K; Hull with 1,240 @ $135K, Norfolk (k-6 only) with 1,109 @$146K. Harvard with 1,300 @$144K.

The net of my findings: some make more and some make less.  In my experience, if an employee leaves I am always looking for an upgrade.  If Superintendent Calmes leaves I am going to look for an upgrade.  Guess what folks…..This is going to cost us!  We are going to need to pay more than we currently do.

So here is why I chose to vote to give Superintdendent Calmes the 2.5% this year and next:

  1. We are trying to get a new school.  I do not want any change in the leadership, if possible, as we go through the planning for a new school
  2. I want to get the salary for the role (NOT THE PERSON) at a level where we can attract the best candidate should we lose Superintendent Calmes and by the way, we eventually will.  So let’s get ready for that day to come now versus begging the town manager and selectmen for money.

Embracing 21st Century Communication Approaches to Improve Community Engagement

Late in the fall 2012, a group of parent volunteers gathered to support our students and educators. The Community Outreach and Engagement Advisory
Committee was formed to provide recommendations and support the in
improving the communications with Lunenburg residents. As parents and concerned
citizens we connected with our networks of Lunenburg residents to get feedback
about areas to focus on.

This committee was formed to advise the school committee, District leadership and educators about the best ways to:

  • Increase awareness and knowledge of District initiatives and activities
  • Increase reach within the community to improve overall perception of the District’s value to the community
  • Ensure parents receive timely, relevant, consistent and accurate communications about students and schools
  • Improve overall communication processes to reduce duplicate efforts and increase effectiveness

Through research, informal polling and brainstorming the team attempted to put all of the pieces of the communications puzzle together.  We identified some low hanging fruit
which could be addressed immediately, short term projects and longer term
projects to help improve overall communications.

We identified as an untapped source within the low hanging fruit.  The committee has created a public Facebook page.  This public page will enable the district
to reach any user who “likes”  the page.  The primary
function of this page will be sharing information with the residents of
Lunenburg.

We have also created a Twitter handle for Superintendant Calmes which is an excellent vehicle for sharing updates (school cancelled!), quick thoughts (such as State level budget issues) and sharing other news (linking to news articles pertinent to the
district).  We have received strong feedback that many parents and
students use Twitter and a communications vehicle.

In addition to Twitter, we will increase the visibility of the school committee and other school events by creating our very own YouTube channel.  For those residents who are unable to attend a school committee meeting or do not want to set aside time to watch public access, YouTube offers the flexibility to residents to watch what they want and when they want!  It also provides the District the ability to see how many residents are actually viewing the videos.  In the future, we are recommending a video blog to get news and thoughts out to the community.  Bob Meek-LaVeck has been critical in our ability to establish this online video presence.

The final piece of the social puzzle will be blogs.  We are recommending starting with superintendent Calmes.  The blog information will be the same article posted to the Ledger but offers residents the ability to comment (which are moderated!) and provide direct online feedback.  We have recommended starting with the superintendent because executive sponsorship is just not enough.  We need executive adoption, someone who talks the talk and walks the walk.

Beyond the social sphere, we felt it important to provide a visual identity for our school district which reflects our values.  This logo or seal would provide the visual branding to be used across all district wide communications. We have a strong mission and identity.  We need to use this to enhance awareness and identify.  How about a little contest across the district to create a logo/seal?  Low cost and fun for the students.

The website was a source of frustration for many based on the feedback we received.  Despite the best efforts of the District, many find it confusing to find and navigate.  We recommend using a single domain direct to one web presence.  In addition, we should align to a standardized naming convention along the lines of .   The should be search optimized and reviewed for best practices in navigation. It is also important for our residents that they be able to use the website from their mobile devices.  The current set up is not at all suited to mobile consumption.  The work on the website is a mid-long term exercise which will require resources and expertise to accomplish.    In addition to web expertise, there need to be changes to the policies and procedures to ensure information on the web presence is accurate and up to date.

To improve overall communications and increase productivity we must look at how family information is managed.  Currently there are multiple databases where student and family information is stored.  To truly meet the goals, it is strongly recommended at creating single database of student and family information, ultimately a 360 degree view of the student.  This will lead to better data management practices and ultimately improved efficiency and parent satisfaction.  Whether this is power School, Naviance , blackboard or something else all together, this is a critical component to success.  This recommendation may require additional funding.

To increase efficiency and reduce workload on the administration, the District should enable parents to register their children online.  Parents should have the ability to review their children’s’ information online and make updates when required.  It is expected that this will yield benefits for the administration via costs savings and also provide parents something they have been asking for.

Finally, to move forward, there is a lot of work to be done here.  We recommend keeping a group of parent volunteers who can support these initiatives.  In addition to the parents, we are working to establish a communications champions team comprised of teachers and other members of the district to help push this forward.  These people will be fans of social media and also willing to help coach others in the processes.  This enablement will be critical to making these approaches part of the District DNA moving forward.  On the legal front, we believe there will need to be some policy additions and changes to support our mission.

Several people have asked how this directly impacts the educational quality.  I believe firmly that an informed resident and a smarter resident.  Only by being aware of what is happening can residents make informed decisions about the priorities for this town.

To wrap up, what happens if we do nothing?  Well, we have a very large and expensive project ahead of us.   We need to engage with the residents of Lunenburg now so that they will have confidence to provide the town with the funds necessary to get us a new school.  The time is now.  Let’s not let this opportunity pass to improve resident engagement!

Education is more than the MCAS scores

If there were an exam dedicated to music, the students of Turkey Hill Middle School in Lunenburg, Massaschusetts would have achieved a perfect score based on their performance this evening. Under the direction of , the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade bands and chorus played together for the very first time this evening.  It was not the  or the , but it was a group of kids and a teacher who clearly enjoyed the evening!.  The packed house at laughed and clapped their way through the evening displaying pride in the children of our small community.

So why was this evening so successful?  What is Mr. A teaching exactly?  Some would say he teaches music.  Based on the results this evening and the stories I hear from my daughter, I believe he is educating our children in areas well beyond the notes and instruments.

Here is what I think the children are getting from Mr. A’s approach:

  • Confidence: the auditorium was completely packed with parents, friends and siblings this evening.  Despite this, Mr. A clearly instilled the confidence in the performers necessary to put themelves out there.
  • An ability to come together to do something special:   Mr. Archambault pointed out the fact that the students had never actually practiced together prior to this evening.  Despite this, the children came together and played their parts with a few little bumps in the road. Think about how this prepares our children for life in the real world!
  • Humor: The conductor took us through the journey the students have been on for the first half of the year starting with day one.  The band played a loud group of notes which resembled nothing but noise….the parents laughed.  Mr. A laughed and the students laughed at themselves.  The kids learned it is ok to make mistakes and have a laugh at yourself once in a while.
  • Technology: Mr. A incorporates technology whenever he can to help the .  This was not as evident during the evening but my daughter will frequently come home to share a new “cool” thing she learned on the MAC.  These “cool” things are always related to the topic.  The students learn about music and how to use technology without ever realizing it!
  • Storytelling:  Mr A took us through a journey of how his students/our children went from making noise to playing ‘s ““.
  • Oh,….yeah…music:  I almost forgot.  The children actually sang and played songs on their instruments!  That was a nice bonus.

As I think about the fact that we removed music from our primary school last year to help with the budget gap, I find myself thinking what a supremely bad idea that was.  As we move into the budget process for next year, we need to find a way to bring back to our primary school not for my last bullet point but rather to provide children the opportunity to grow in ways that will prepare them for life beyond the walls of the Lunenburg Public Schools.

What do you think?

Bringing Social Media into the Classroom…If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

A recent poll by reveals “1 in 4 students say they access in the daily”  but “…most U.S. and German say they never access social media in the classroom.”

Some other key takeaways from the Dell study:

  • 88% agree technology helps prepare students for the jobs of the future
  • More than 8 in 10 agree that technology makes learning easier.
  • 71% say students have access to more advanced technology at home than they do at school.
  • 83% of respondents globally believe technology gives students a more experience.
  • 71% of respondents believe that learning outside of the classroom and beyond the school year is important.

So here is the $64,000 question:  Does social media belong in the classroom?  I would say…Yes with some caveats.  I am certainly not suggesting we enable Facbook, and for everyone in the classroom so that .  I am suggesting we look for ways to incorporate social technologies to:

  • Foster better communications between parents, teachers and students
  • Engage with students who are are already using some sort of
  • Share information to drive improved learning for all students.

Social media is not just a mechanism to share updates with friends or post the latest funny cat video.  The world of social technology -  blogs, podcasts, tags, file swapping, wikis etc.. – can change the way our students learn if educators are able to embrace it.

Here are some examples:

  • Blogs -  What if students were to write their reports or essays as blog entries?  Students would think:  ”Hey, this is not just some paper that my teacher will throw away.  My friends, family and others will see it.”  What if teachers used blogs to communicate what is going on in the classroom versus sending that email or piece of paper home?  Parents could subscribe to the blog avoiding the emails and paper which eventually end up in the trash.  Some safe, FREE tools:   ; 
  • Collaboration – Like it or not, we live in a global interconnected world.  Schools need to educate our children on how to collaborate.  What if was conducted via social technology where all files, discussions, and results were managed?   Think about the discussions this could foster and that information would be available online…potentially forever.  FREE tool
  • Podcasts -  What if students could publish a report as a podcast?  Some students just thrive by communicating orally or verbally….their report would be available to all…

These are some ideas about how to incorporate social technology.  Let’s face it, the internet is not going away and social technologies are here to stay.  To prepare students for lifelong success, we need to enable them with not just the knowledge to succeed but we also must provide them with the skills to use today’s tools to succeed in an increasingly competitive, interconnected world.

It is time for schools to embrace 21st century communications

Would you allow a company like Sears, Amazon or Nordstroms call you at home at 5:30 AM without your permission to let you know that they are closed due to a snowstorm?   I think not! Then why do school districts get away with this lack of targeted, preference based communication?

All town residents are  customers. They pay for the schools via taxes whether they want to or not.  They deserve to be treated as customers and therefore deserve to communicate with the district on their terms.

Many school districts take a “spray and pray” mentality.  So what exactly does that mean? Schools will send out a  in every possible format in the hopes that one of them will stick:

  • Email
  • Printed news letters
  • Notes from teachers
  • Articles in the news paper
  • , facebook,  posts

I submit, that school districts should allow residents to choose their preferred communication preference.  This aligns with a 21st century approach to communications – preference based.  I am talking communications targeted to address the needs and concerns of residents as individuals.

I also understand that school districts are under extreme pressure to deliver more less budget than ever and that administrators and teachers are doing what they can just to education our children.  So, any solution needs to seamlessly integrate into the day to day operations without adding additional overhead.

Want the good news?  The technology exists to capture residents’ demographics, interests and preference….and it is often FREE!  It is time that we start using it!

  1. Create or use an existing database of contacts enabling contacts to manage their own information – our school district has this.  The key here is that the school districts need to consistently ensure that there is one system of record.
  2. Give contacts choices in their communications.  Provide parents and other residents the ability to manage their own information (address, email address, phone numbers and preferences) from the device of their choice (iPhone, Android device, tablet, laptop etc)
  3. Enable multi-channel communications (email, , telephone) and the preference choices govern which medium is used for communications.  This means establishing policies and procedures about using the preferences in fabric of the school district.

So, what is your opinion?

Do you have other suggestions?  

Do parents REALLY care about their kids’ education?

Got your attention?  Good!  Based on my own circle of friends and friends of friends, I believe the overwhelming majority of parents DO care about their childrens’ education.  I do believe, however, that most parents do not know how to influence the policy direction or the operational procedures in their .  In this post, I want to discuss how parents can influence schools to help prepare our children for life after they graduate.

Get Involved:

There are various levels of involvement.  Some choose to run for school committee.  Talk to the committee members. Others choose to get involved with the .  Attend a school committee and/or a meeting to voice your opinions.  Some parents volunteer in the schools.  These are all excellent ways to help our children.

For those of us that are too busy to get actively involved, I recommend sending an email.  An email provides a quick, fool proof way to guarantee your message is received.  I recommend  the following guidelines when emailing:

  • Highlight the issue, question or problem without emotion.  State the facts and just the facts.  I know this is tough.  After all these are our children!
  • Attack the problem not the person.  Do not write anything in the email you would not say to the person directly or want posted in the newspaper.
  • Offer a suggestion or solution. Do not be part of the problem.
  • Use a capability.  This will allow you to know when your email is opened.     To see how visit one of these links (, ).  You can also politely request a response by a certain date.  Do not be afraid to forward your original email if you do not get a response

To whom do I send communications

  • Email a school committee member.  They are all and have public ().  Remember the role of the school committee before you launch this email.  (Note: In the 9 months as a school committee member I have received 5 emails with questions or suggestions!)
  • Email teachers or principals:  Teachers are on the front line and care deeply about  your children.  Contact your principal if something is just not working in your schools (e.g. lunch menus are not posted on time).  Escalate to your principal if you feel you are not making headway with the teacher.
  • Email the superintendent:  This is the CEO of the district who can make things happen district wide.  If you have concerns about policy implementation, this is a great place to start.  (e.g. wellness policies – allergies etc..)
  • Email elected officials: Whether it is the mayor, board of selectmen, alder men etc..These people need to hear your concerns, wants or desires for education in your district.

For those of you with time:

  • Attend school committee meetings:  I have noticed that my town’s school committee frequently addresses an empty room. It would be more beneficial to have parents in the room to receive feedback.
  • Attend board of selectmen meetings:  Same as above.  This group has a major impact (in many but not all districts) on what school districts can and cannot accomplish.
  • Volunteer:  Reach out to your principal if you have something to offer.  My company provides .  Ask your company if they do something similar.

All in all, I do believe parents care.  Many do not know how to get involved.  Some just plain  do not have the time.  I hope these suggestions help identify a few ways to get engaged.

 

Initial views of the Town of Lunenburg budget…and 5 year forecast

 

I had a dream the other night.  I attended the Lunenburg meeting to listen to the 5 year forecast.  It was one of the better meetings I had attended in quite a while.  During the meeting, our delivered the 5 year forecast which showed a surplus for every year over the next 5 years.   The audience erupted in applause and thanked the town manager for the excellent news….As I woke up in a cold sweat, I realized that this had just been a dream.

 

We unfortunately find ourselves in a situation where we are in a likely budget shortfall.  How is this going to impact the Lunenburg Public Schools?  Notice…I did not ask IF !  This is definitely going to impact our budget.

 

Ok now parents!  LISTEN UP!  I AM GOING TO NEED YOU TO GET VOCAL ABOUT THE USAGE OF THE TOWN BUDGET!  THIS IS PUBLIC INFORMATION PLEASE READ AND BE READY TO SHARE YOUR CONCERNS, COMMENTS OR SUGGESTIONS WITH THE BOARD OF SELECTMEN.  PLEASE MAKE AN ATTEMPT TO ATTEND A BoS MEETING TO SHARE YOUR OPINION.

 

Watch this space for more thoughts.