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.

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.

 

On October 16, six Lunenburg residents met to discuss how the Lunenburg Public School district can more effectively engage the community.  We spent 2 hours discussing what we ultimately want to achieve, how to get there and what next steps we need to take.

Goals:

  • Increase awareness and knowledge of District initiatives and activities for all Lunenburg residents
  • 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 processes to reduce duplicate efforts and increase effectiveness

How can we achieve these goals?  I believe firmly that the Lunenburg Public Schools need to embrace 21st approaches to interact with the Lunenburg residents.  This means:

  • We must adopt preference based communications:  Residents should tell us how they want to hear from the schools. The District should provide as many communication vehicles as possible to ensure we are reaching the residents – print media, email, facebook, twitter, television, meetings, sporting events, other live events etc..  The schools should not arbitrarily decide what communication vehicle to use. They need to offer the parents a choice.   They should even offer a choice to “opt-out” of all communications.   Think about your bank…Banks largely offer you a choice:  do you want to get your statements online? in an email? on paper?   Why should schools treat their customers any differently?
  •  and websites:  Like it or not, , twitter and other social media platforms are here to stay.  Embrace it or be left in the dust…People have become accustomed to a top quality .  As consumer we expect to be able to use google to find what we need.  When we arrive at a website, we expect the information on that website to be customized to our needs.  This expectation is being carried over to the .
  • Online access and management of personal information:  I cannot think of the last time I had to fill out a paper form to register for something….actually, I can!  It was for school just a few weeks ago.  If I open a bank account, apply for a mortgage,  get a car insurance quote or generally want to use any service, there is invariably a website where I securely enter information as part of the application process.  If I move, I am responsible for updating this information myself.  This is not just a question ease of use but also of efficiency.  There is zero reason in today’s interconnected, instrumented world to have to duplicate data entry by filling out a paper form only to have another person enter the data into a system.

These are some of the initial ideas about how Lunenburg Public Schools could better reach and engage residents.  Contact me to find out how to get involved!

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the following questions from Lunenburg residents:

  • When is the next meeting? (I challenge all Lunenburg residents to find the meeting agendas and minutes)
  • What are you discussing at the next school committee meeting?
  • How can I get an opportunity to speak at a school committee meeting?
  • Why don’t you just send an email, ‘” something or post an announcement to ?  (Check out or )
  • Why isn’t there a where I can watch your meetings on demand? ()

These questions really get into the tactics of how we need to communicate.  Since being elected, I have been thinking about these questions and what they are highlighting. It is time to stop thinking about it and do something.

It is clear to me, we need an up to date, 21st century approach to communicating with the residents of Lunenburg.  As I searched the web, I found many districts have taken a “If you can’t beat ‘em join” attitude to communicating, taking to the platforms to reach their audiences.

In my role as a marketer, I need to determine which I need to reach with my messages working with other marketers to choose the best channels to reach the target audience.  This is a fundamental of communication…right message, at the right place at the right time….So how do we reach our target audience…the residents of Lunenburg?

Well, this will be a topic at the Lunenburg School Committee meeting tomorrow night at TC Passios School.  Your feedback or suggestions prior to the meeting or during our discussion will help shape what gets decided and implemented. 

It is funny to me watching educators and and administrators debate how to best “teach” technology to their students at all levels, from kindergarten to senior year in . I often joke that if non-computer savvy people want to learn about computers or technology, they just need ask a 4-5 year old!

I was reminded of this by my 6 year old who grabbed and began learning on the app. No one taught her how to use technology. She just gets it and frankly, she does not think about the fact that she is using technology to learn. It is just another one of the arrows in the quiver.

As we think about teaching technology in schools who are we really teaching? Who is the student and who is the master? by Dell Inc indicates teachers believe students are more tech savvy than they are. Additionally respondents indicate that training focuses more on education practices and technology versus integrating technology into the curriculum.

I do not believe there is a debate about including technology in school. I believe the question is this: How can educators include technology in a seamless manner to facilitate the learning process?

Like it or not, there is a . Kids today have grown up with technology while many of the teachers discovered computers later in life. I relate this to learning a language…When you grow up in Germany speaking German it is second nature. If you decide to learn German when you are 30, you will never reach the same proficiency level.

So how do we overcome this digital divide?

  • Mandate technology proficiency in all new hires: Define the competencies desired and ensure all new teachers can demonstrate them.
  • Train existing teachers: Ensure there is a process for continuous improvement with formalized training for all teachers to reach a defined level of competency. Hire an “expert” to train. The key here is to focus on how to incorporate technology in the learning process.

What if educators and administrators could take advantage of the existing proficiency within their schools? Could a 6 year be the answer to closing the gap?

Let me know your thoughts!

The role of CEO (Chief Education Officer) – district superintendents

Since the post about the role of the last week, I have received several questions about the role of the .  It is important to understand how this critical role impacts the entire district and in the end, all students.

I laid out the areas of responsibility in .  As a reminder, the identifies the following areas of responsibilities: Policy, Finance, Staffing, Collective bargaining, Performance Standards, Professional development, School Councils, Advocacy, Curriculum, Governance, and Communication.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees defines the roles and responsibilities for school superintendents in their “Charting the Course” offering:

Policy: Develops and informs committee or procedures required to implement committee policies; recommends policy options to school committee when new or ammended policies are required.

Finance: Oversees the operation of the annual budget; Provides updates to the school committee; Provides early notice of potential budget overruns or shortfalls.

Staffing: Appoints, disciplines and discharges administrators principals, and staff not assigned to particular schools. Reviews and approves principal’s hire of all teachers, athletic coaches, and other staff assigned to a particular school.

Collective bargaining: Serves as a resource in collective bargaining.  Assure adherence to all collective bargaining agreements.

Performance Standards: Assures the evaluation of personnel according to district and state standards; Develops performance standards for all staff aligned to school committee policy, contractual agreements and educational goals of the district.

Professional Development: Implements the professional development program adopted by the school committee. Ensures professional development activities are available to all school department employees.

School Councils:  Reviews with principals the role of school councils and relevant activities.

Advocacy:  Engages in advocacy on behalf of students and their schools promoting the benefits of a public school system to the community; Works with local and state officials to gain support for a fair and sound school budget aligned to district goals and objectives.

Curriculum: Recommends major adoptions of courses or text book; Ensures there is a process to develop and refine curriculum.

Governance:  Acts as the school committees chief executive officer and educational advisor in all efforts of the committee; Serves point of contact for schools’ administrative teams; Proposes and initiates a process for long range and strategic planning; Ensures school provides equal opportunity for students and staff.

Communication: Keeps all school committee members informed about school operations and programs; develops and implements a plan for working with media; shares responsibility for open communication with community.