Expanded Tools (and a Different Role?) for Teachers
Posted by Paul Craft at 12/30/2014
Prior to winter break, I had the opportunity to teach a full
day at Dempsey Middle School; five sections of Mr. Freado’s 7th grade history
classes.The experience reinforced my
confidence in the course we have set for the Delaware City Schools as we move
to ensure that all of our students in grades 7 through 12 have mobile devices
–laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc. – with them during the day.This year our 7th graders at Dempsey all have
Chromebooks that they keep with them throughout the school day and usually take
home as well.
I taught for all or part of 17 years before going into
administration. I loved being in the classroom and my day at Dempsey reminded
me why: the interactions, the energy, and the challenge to motivate students
with vastly different interests, backgrounds and abilities.While I was reassured by how
familiar the setting felt, I was also amazed at the possibilities
that exist when all of our students have a device that can access the
internet and produce documents and presentations.
When I was a classroom teacher, one of the limits to how
much Physics my students were going to learn was how much I myself knew and how
well I could relay that information.My
first year teaching AP Physics, for example, I did a poor job teaching
magnetic fields theory and application, primarily because it had never really
clicked for me until I tried to teach it.The limits of my knowledge cost at least a few kids a “5” on the
AP exam.Now, any teacher’s
understanding of a topic represents much less of a limit to student learning.
At different times during my guest teaching, I asked
our 7th grade students to go on their own to look for something on the web.
Entering the search terms “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and “US Constitution
Enumerated Powers” yielded around 750,000 websites.As their teacher, I know the basics of these
two topics.However, thanks to our 1-to-1
Chromebook initiative, our 7th grade students have at their fingertips real time
access to essentially the entire combined knowledge of the best scholars in the
world on those topics, including of course Maslow’s original 1954 paper
introducing his concept and images of an original copy and expert analysis on
the U.S. Constitution.No longer am I, as
a teacher, the sole holder of, giver of, or gateway to knowledge.Rather, my role can become much more of a
coach, mentor, or facilitator.
These tools in the hands of our kids do not change many aspects of our work.Kids still
don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.Good time and classroom management skills
continue to be essential.Effective
lesson planning is the bedrock on which everything else rests.However, the tools we have to support how we
build a lesson are now so much more powerful than even a few years ago.We owe it to our students to bring those tools to
bear.Our graduates are going to live
and work in a hyper-connected world.We
can no longer afford to have non-connected classrooms and only pencil and paper
instructional experiences.Our district
mission statement talks about preparing our students to “…embrace the
challenges of our global society.”Getting
these tools into the hands of our kids and then learning to leverage them is
one more important way for us to work toward accomplishing that mission.
It certainly appears that winter is here to stay! We recognize school closings and delays can be disruptive to normal family routines, and they have an obvious impact on the instructional time we have with our students. We value every minute we get to spend educating our students and believe it is important to keep them in a school routine as much as possible. We have received several questions this year about why we have or haven’t closed, why we open on a 2-hour delay when temperatures are only rising slightly (if at all) in that time frame, and more. I wanted to share some information on how we make decisions.
Closing - The decision to close is made when it looks like dangerous travel or weather conditions are going to persist or worsen in such a way that it does not appear that transitioning our 6,000 (+) students and staff from home to school and back again is advisable. We are always reluctant to close our schools because of the serious impact it has on families and learning. Closings will generally be reserved for heavy snow, power/heat outages or persistent cold temperatures of -20 °F (windchill) or lower.
Delays - A delayed start allows time for the conditions of our roads, sidewalks and buildings to be improved so that we can safely transition our students and staff or for weather to improve, along with other considerations discussed below. A medium snowstorm overnight or a frigid overnight that looks to get a little better with time are examples of when we might utilize a delay.
At times, including over the last couple of days, we have experienced cold spells where a delay doesn’t seem to make a substantial difference in the temperature. There are still considerations that can make a delay advisable even beyond the temperature differential. These include:
Traveling in daylight – On a normal school day, our high school and middle school bus runs start around 6:30 a.m., well before sunrise. We believe it's safer for our student drivers, walkers and buses to be traveling when others can more easily see if a problem has occurred.
Warming the buses – While we have a well-maintained bus fleet, the extra time to inspect and warm up the buses helps reduce the chance of mechanical problems once on the road or delayed routes that can strand students at bus stops.
Preparing our facilities – Our custodial crews spend a considerable amount of time checking our heating and plumbing systems to ensure they are in proper working order before bringing students into the building. The extra time also allows our team to clear any drifted snow or ice from the walkways and to make sure that our staff is ready to safely welcome our students to our buildings.
As we navigate the rest of this winter season, we appreciate the partnership with our parents to ensure our children are properly dressed for cold weather. We also encourage parents to arrange for a friend or neighbor to transport children to and from school or the bus stop when needed. We will continue to evaluate weather conditions on a day-by-day basis to make the best decisions for the safety of all students.
Delaware City Schools and other districts in Ohio received initial State Foundation projections from the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). The decline in our district’s state foundation aid is less than we had originally projected. This is great news for our district. However, there are a few items to consider when analyzing the figures as released by the Governor’s office or reported in the Columbus Dispatch:
• DCS is projected to lose 4.4% ($511,276) of our state revenue when the federal stimulus funds are subtracted from the FY2012 State Foundation allocation.
• The accelerated phase out of Tangible Personal Property (TPP) Tax reimbursement is not included in the above reduction. In DCS, we are estimating a loss of approximately $800,000 for next year and an additional $800,000 reduction in each of the following three years from that accelerated phase out.
• The budget bill still needs to move through the legislative process and can be altered. The OBM used a formula that is dependent on Valuation per Pupil. This led to bigger reductions for surrounding districts where the property values are very high or student enrollment is much lower. However, legislators representing districts with the largest reductions will likely advocate for changes during the legislative process. There are other proposed formulas which are much more negative for our district. It is possible that the formula may be changed before the final budget bill is approved.
• Figures on Rollback and Homestead credits are not yet available. While we don't expect any surprises on these funds, it is still an unknown.
• Local property valuations will be released by the Delaware County Auditor in the near future. We are expecting a decline in Delaware City which will negatively impact revenue we receive on our inside millage.
Keeping the above in mind, this is still better news than expected for Delaware City Schools. We will continue to monitor the process and communicate with our legislators and community. If the cuts in state revenue are less than projected, the Board of Education will review the recommended budget reductions and focus on preserving quality educational programs for students.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has released a study that rates all school districts in the state of Ohio and across the nation (available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/educational_productivity/report.html). The Delaware City Schools ranked near the top tier of Ohio school districts in terms of Return on Investment - essentially a measure of efficiency based on the performance of the district’s students, the background of those students, and the resources invested. Only 51 of 601 Ohio districts were rated in a higher category than the Delaware City Schools. The Delaware City Schools are committed to maximizing the growth of our students while serving as good stewards of our public tax dollars. According to this recent study, the district is doing exactly that.