November 17, 2015

Involving the community

Involving the community 

Some of you know that in September I started a new job at Vanderbilt Area School in Vanderbilt, Mich. Vanderbilt is a unique school because it has been in deficit since 2004, with one escape about five years ago. Moreover, the district is also a Priority School as the test results in the elementary have been near the bottom of the State for several years. The battle is real. The efforts are paramount. Moving forward is a challenge, but something that must be done. 

As part of the change in culture at the school, I have increased community communication and one of the ways I've been doing that is writing a weekly column for our local newspaper. It's been a fun endeavor and allows me to share thoughts about change, leadership, culture, curriculum, and assessment in a conversational manner. I've had good responses on the columns so far, so I thought I would share the latest. It's a combination of an attempt to involve the community BUT also an effort to upgrade our safety as the same time.

We have begun to upgrade our safety at the school. At the last Board Meeting, the Board voted to purchase safety upgrades from the Lockdown Company out of Fowlerville, Michigan. The District will be purchasing “the Boot,” a safety device that will allow all internal school doors to be locked down quickly based on an announcement; ballistic shields to be put on key exterior doors; and rapid response room number placards in order to easily identify and find classrooms. In addition, the District is investigating the possibility of building a new wall in the main lobby to ensure that all visitors visit the office before any other spot in the school. The cost of the tools from the Lockdown Company is $16,000, which the District can pay off over four years and also use Sinking Fund monies; however, we are hoping that the community is interested in helping us by “adopting a door.” We will be sharing more information on how to adopt a door soon. While we upgrade our safety, we are also working on bringing back the yellow and black.

How does Vanderbilt Area School truly bring the yellow and black back? We’ve placed a focus on “Every child. Every day.” and continue to be motivated to build an incredible school district for our community. But how do we do that? We have to involve the community, continue forth with academic initiatives, and create transitions between levels for our students.

Involving the community in reimagining of our school district is crucial. Working with our community agencies, local companies, and other entities to help our students and their families in the current economic climate will allow that to happen. Our free/reduced lunch counts are high — high enough that we are able to offer all students free breakfasts and lunches every day. We hope to create a great learning environment for our students and allow them to become successful.

Furthermore, we must continue forth with our academic initiatives already in place. Studying the work of November Learning, Dr. Michael Schmoker, and working with our our intermediate school district (the COPESD) to place rigorous academic programming in place, frequently monitor student achievement, and make appropriate changes in a timely, efficient fashion. The idea is not to make students mere numbers, but to put them in charge of their own learning. Student learning is more important that teachers teaching and the proverbial "did the student get it?" The reality is that we have to find a way for students to "get it." Developing professional learning communities (PLCs) will allow us to “… focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results,” according to former administrator and PLC designer Richard DuFour. DuFour identifies three “big ideas” for PLCs: Big Idea #1: Ensuring That Students Learn; Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration; Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results. Focusing on results will have a great effect on the organization.

When we bridge the gaps between educational levels, from lower elementary to upper elementary to middle school to high school to college/post–secondary learning, we will move the district in the right direction. We do a great job for our students who do graduate but we do no exit survey, no follow–up survey, and no outreach for students who leave and go to college. Those recent alumni can help us greatly. Furthermore, we need to highlight college and post–secondary options for kids beginning in the elementary school.

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