Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farewell, Mansfield...

Thursday marks the end of my tenure as principal of Mansfield High School.  Per usual, I still feel like I have a zillion things on my "to do" list before I leave.  I guess the more things change...

I leave this school community with a sense of gratitude for serving as its principal.  There is a strong sense of pride over so many programs- and there should be.  I am proud that I worked with an outstanding professional and support staff.  The past few years have been so challenging, with increased enrollment and numerous staff cuts.  Nonetheless, our students still have received a high-quality education and have achieved at the highest levels.  MHS' teachers are the heart and soul this school and that will never change.

I also appreciated the support of parents who pushed me to be a better principal. I had the pleasure of working with bright, personable individuals who strived to stay abreast of current research and best practices in education so MHS could continuously improve.  For that, I was blessed.

I thank my administrative team, assistant principals Mike Connolly, Dave Farinella, and Dawn Stockwell for their support and collegiality. Having a cohesive team is integral to having a smooth running school, and these three have always shown nothing but professionalism and loyalty to MHS.  I am a richer person for working with them.

Most of all, I will miss the students of MHS.  It's not exactly a military secret that being a high school principal can, at times, be a stressful job.  The times that always brought a smile to my face were when I was in a "kid's world," i.e., sitting in a class, watching any of our music groups perform, or being at an athletic event.  There was no stress here- only joy.  I will miss MHS students and their character and passion they bring to just about all things in our school.

So I leave.... a little nervous but also with excitement as I take on my new professional challenge as the Superintendent of Schools of the Mendon Upton Regional School District.  I invite you to stay in touch, as I will continue blogging, this time reporting the news of a new district but also commenting on other larger (dare I say relevant?) topics affecting schools.

Perhaps I should not say "farewell" here.  Instead, let me close borrowing a phrase I learned earlier this year... À Bientôt, mes amis.

See you soon, my friends...

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Happens When the "Everyone Gets a Trophy" Generation Fails?

As I have been coaching both of my daughters in softball for the past nine years, it invariably happens every game. A girl will strike out by weakly waving at a pitch two feet over her head... and then I'll hear it... Out of the stands or even from another coach, "Nice try! Way to go! Good job!" with the gratuitous clap.

I stand next to the dugout and think to myself, "Um. No.... that wasn't a good job."

Now don't get me wrong. I believe in giving praise to kids in my role as a parent, educator, and coach. To my girls who strike out or botch a play, sometimes I like to give them give perspective that this is only a game, and I'll usually remark, "Let's get 'em next time."

But false praise in the face of failure? Never.

As a coach, I stress the same things that I do as a teacher, namely: Learn from your mistakes. Effort = Achievement, so practice and you'll get better. Hard work makes all of the difference.

To be sure, those lessons were taught to me by my parents and my teachers. It was an era that was less politically correct, one where there was less emphasis on cultivating a child's self esteem and more on teaching life's lessons- where there are winners and losers and natural consequences.

This point is driven home in the cover story of the July-August 2011 issue of The Atlantic. This captivating piece, entitled, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," details the repercussions of what is becoming more commonplace: parents' obsession with their children's happiness. The author, psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, traces how the generation of young people in their late teens and twenties (commonly referred to as "millenials") are increasingly unable to handle adversity in life due to over-parenting. The end results are young adults who are anxious, withdrawn, and/or depressed while seemingly having all of the external trappings (e.g., great job, good salary, positive relationships, etc.) of a successful life.

The article describes some disturbing trends. First, college professors and administrators at competitive schools now refer to some freshmen students as "teacups" because without their hovering parents to ward off the pressures of school, they are very fragile and crack under the slightest pressure. Second, Gottlieb describes (see video below) an increasing phenomenon that today's employers cite. Twenty-something aged employees report that they feel "unappreciated" and devalued because they are not receiving praise from their bosses when they do a good job... over things that are in their job description!

As Gottlieb points out, sometimes failure for children is a very good thing, as it is part of the natural growth process. However, helicopter parenting does not allow this to take place.

Will the pendulum ever swing back the other way? From my perspective as a principal for the past 13 years, I see it getting worse. I have dealt with many cases throughout the years- from ones of discipline to academic integrity- where parents will "go to bat" for their child at all costs fully knowing that their child is in the wrong. With increasing regularity I hear appeals of administrative decisions for that very reason.

I also wonder if in K-12 public education we are part of the problem vis-a-vis "everyone getting a trophy"? In an era of grade inflation at all levels, do we feed the beast as evidenced by practices that lead to endless honor rolls and too many awards for kids?

All kids should- and can- achieve rigorous content and performance standards, but are they achieving them to the degree that we say they are? Nationally, the follow-up data tells a mixed story when looking at measures such as the number of freshmen in remediation courses and college graduation rates.

Are we all that parent in the stands, clapping and yelling "Good job!" for something less than that?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Congrats and Godspeed, Class of 2011!

To be sure, last Friday night was special. Our annual commencement exercises for the Class of 2011 resonated as a memorable ceremony, one where there was a positive energy and flow to the evening. It was a fit conclusion to a class that has achieved so much during some of the most challenging economic times.

I am very proud of all of our student speakers. Bridget Davis, the class president for all four years, (pictured above)started the program by reflecting on the accomplishments of the class. She concluded, "we can take prided in the fact that we've excelled in the classroom, in music and the arts, and on the playing field throughout our high school career."

Salutatorian Amanda Zieselman (pictured above), battling laryngitis, worked her speech around the famed Dr. Seuss work, Oh the Places You'll Go! Her reflection on the class took a longer view (the K-12 one), as she remarked, "Bottom line is we care about each other- we've laughed together and cried together, worked together and procrastinated together... and being in school for a grand total of 2,340 days or 14,040 hours we've become a family."

Valedictorian Walter Xu (pictured below) struck a cerebral tone with his speech, painting a wonderful metaphor around our feet and the steps we must take in life's journey. He spoke of two separate journeys he had recently taken- one to a clifftop in Nice and the other to the top of the Empire State Building (using the elevator to get to the top). The one to Nice was much more satisfying, as he could reflect on where he had been. "Though the steps may be fatiguing, enjoy every moment as it is the steps that will comprise most of your life," he surmised.

Per usual, the music selections were spot-on. Hats off to graduate Allison Passanisi (pictured below) for arranging and conducting the senior choir presentation of "Footprints in the Sand." Simply outstanding! The band's rendition of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the orchestra's presentation of "Zooster's Breakout" were equally strong.

Good luck, Class of 2011!! You have served Mansfield High School well. I wish you nothing but the absolute best!

Above: Graduate Katie MacLeod performs "Pirates of the Carri bean" with the MHS Concert Band.
Above: Grad Ellie Farrell shows her joy at being presented her diploma by Mansfield School Committee Chair Mike Trowbridge.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Visit from the Commish

Above: Commissioner Chester with Superintendent Hodges, Jordan Jackson Co-Principal Kathy Podesky, and me.

Last Monday was a key day in our district as we hosted the State Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Dr. Mitchell Chester. As he usually visits at least district per week, Mansfield was selected for a distinct reason. Michael D'Ortenzio, Jr., a senior at Wellesley High School, and the chairman of the student advisory board for the DESE heard about the campus setup of the Mansfield schools from his colleagues of the advisory board, MHS seniors Justin Deckert and Jonathan Paz. Being curious as how to the campus environment could foster collaboration amongst the schools, D'Ortenzio suggested the visit to Dr. Chester.

During the two-hour visit to all four schools, the commissioner and Michael saw areas that have been focal points for the district in recent years. At MHS, they learned of the work done in the Academic Learning Center (ALC) and the recent efforts to make the response to intervention (RtI) process viable to assist students that are struggling academically. Highlighted was the use of student tutors from the ALC. These tutors work not only with their peers from MHS but also students from the Jordan Jackson and QMS. They also learned about MHS' Senior Option program and how the Career Pathways students perform internships throughout the district's schools and throughout businesses in the community.

Tours of the elementary schools featured an example of how technology is being utilized at Jordan Jackson, demonstrated a smart board lesson at Robinson, and highlighted the theater program at Qualters Middle School. Additionally they viewed the Little Hornets daycare program at the Robinson. This program enables over 75 MHS students to gain a meaningful hands-on experience through the child development coursework.

The visit concluded with a small reception in the MHS library for the guests, Mansfield teachers, students, and parents. During some brief comments and a Q & A session, Commissioner Chester stated, " “I like what I see. It’s down to business but a student-centered atmosphere. The campus atmosphere is not unique to Massachusetts but its not typical. I’m impressed with how Mansfield has taken advantage of that here.”

Virtually all of us were impressed with Michael D'Ortenzio, this articulate young man who will be continuing his studies as a political science major at Boston University this fall. He spoke with ease and confidence on such heady topics such as educator evaluation and school funding. It should be noted that as the chairman of the state's student advisory board, he is also a voting member of the state board of education. Kudos for the state for empowering student voice to this degree! With the young, bright Mr. D'Ortenzio, I could think of no better representation.

Above: Michael D'Ortenzio chats with Director of Buildings & Grounds Walter Parker

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Most Unflattering Pic Ever!!

If you didn't catch Friday's Mansfield News, there was a collection of photos from the annual MHS All Sports Boosters Club 5K, which was held a couple of Sundays ago. A great time, a great race, and most importantly, raises some decent money for our kids...

One of the photos was the one above... copied and pointed out to me by my assistant, Cathi Horowitz!! Yes, that's me, behind a mom and her 2-year old, ready to stroke out any minute as I cross the finish line!

Some random thoughts after seeing this:
  • I need to hit the salad bar.... really.
  • No, the 2-year old did NOT beat me in the race!
  • No, I didn't catch any flies...
  • No, I wasn't in pain.... just winded.
  • My finishing song on my iPod was "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas. Ummm, didn't exactly charge me up!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Wouldnt Believe the Error's

I have to smile when I see my 15-year old daughter correcting her friends' poor spelling and/or grammar while they are posting on her Facebook wall. Most of their errors are in the they're/there/their and you're vs. your milieu. The usual suspects...

I say this since my daughters were practically toddlers, we have been playing a little game. We will be out anywhere- at a restaurant, shopping, at the park- you name it. I tell the kids, "I bet Daddy can find a misspelled word or bad grammar somewhere!" And true to form, I usually can find some sort of error on a sign, advertisement, or menu. It doesn't take much effort...

Over the past year something has jarred me. Maybe it's an epidemic. Maybe I just didn't notice it before. Maybe it's yet another snapshot of the dumbing down of America. I'll state it this way:

How many people were absent that day in the third grade when proper usage of apostrophes was taught??!!

The error I see time and again is the use of an apostrophe to make a noun plural. For example, here's a picture I took at my car dealership's service window last week when I got my car serviced:

"Saturday's"?? Saturday owns who or what at this Saab dealership?

Then there was this posting in the Mansfield News to advertise that MESA (the Mansfield Elementary School Association) would be holding a "casino night" fundraiser:

"Mansfield School's"?? Geez, don't they still have something called a copy editor??

Then there is the opposite grammatical crime: the sin of omission. For example, I was walking the east side of Providence and noticed this outside of a medical office:

"Apostrophe?? We don't need no stinkin' apostrophe at this doctors office!!"

The sad fact is that it didn't take me much time at all to find these errors and take some quick pictures on my Blackberry. Just like the game I play with my daughters...

Alas, I take comfort in the kindred spirits that have started the Apostrophe Protection Society, a group of Brits who formed the society with "the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language."

To summarize from our friends at the APS, there are only three simple rules for correct usage of the apostrophe:

1. They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, for example: "I can't" instead of "I cannot"

2. They are used to denote possession, for example: the dog's bone
... however, if there are two or more dogs, in our example, the apostrophe comes after the 's':
the dogs' bones

3. Apostrophes are NEVER ever used to denote plurals!

Simple enough, no? The apostrophe is your friend.... don't abuse it!!