Friday, September 24, 2010

Thoughts for Hockomock Captains

Yesterday marked the Hockomock League Captains Leadership Conference, held at Lake Pearl Luciano's in Wrentham. The annual event is held for the senior captains of all interscholastic sports in the 10-school league. Mansfield's athletic director Joe Russo was responsible for the planning and implementation of the event, and he did an outstanding job, as the workshop for 480 student athletes featured preesentations on such timely topics as bullying and sports-related concussions.

I was asked to give some welcoming remarks to the students. Below is the text of my comments. This was an easy one for me, as I wanted to work in the recent story of Armando Gallaraga, a vignette that to me represents all that is right in sports!

Good morning and welcome! It certainly is a pleasure to be speaking to some of the best and brightest that the Hockomock League has to offer. I am certain that most, if not all of you are not only leaders on the playing field and court, but also in the classroom. Confidently, I speak for all 10 schools’ principals and athletic directors in the Hock when I say we are all very proud of your accomplishments and we wish you nothing but success in this school year! Keep up the outstanding work!

At today’s conference- you’re going to hear a lot of recurring themes: character, leadership, and sportsmanship- to name a few… But I also feel like we all need perspective. Out of curiosity- just by a show of hands- how many of you here plan on playing a sport at the college level? How many of you plan on being drafted to play for a pro team out of college within 4 or 5 years from now? Well, according to the most recent statistics from the NCAA, slightly under 4% of all high school student athletes go on to play at the collegiate level. They also report that 0.015 % of high school athletes- that’s 15 out of every 100,000 are drafted by Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, or MLS. Not such great odds, huh?

I don’t bring up these statistics to be a downer, but rather to make a point. While many of you will here will no doubt be in that 4%... and with a little luck, one or two of you may even be the next Lofa Tatupu, and be in that 0.015%.... for the large majority of all student athletes in the Hock, high school is the highest level of organized sports they’ll reach. That is the reality, but for over 3,000 students who play a sport in our league, it is a very meaningful thing- a real passion in their lives as students. As captains in your respective sports you have the opportunity to positive shape their experiences. You have the opportunity to set the tone, demonstrate character, and lead by example, therefore making a real difference in so many lives. That, in my opinion, is a great responsibility but also a wonderful gift.

I’m sure you caught in the news two recent events in sports that I believe speak to character and sportsmanship (or lack thereof). In July, ESPN aired this ridiculous 2-hour special entitled “The Decision” which broke the news on which NBA team LeBron James would be signing his next contract. After much contrived suspense, LeBron announced that it would be the Miami Heat for a mere $110 million. He followed up the special with a garish press conference in Miami the next day- one complete with screaming fans, dancing cheerleaders, a smoke and laser show, and his two new teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. During the special and press conference LeBron kept repeating that he joined the Heat because he wanted to win championships- win a lot of them- and how there would be a new, dominant “big three.” Did he ever discuss his love and respect for the game? Nope- just winning, and winning now. Did he ever speak about team building and chemistry? Nope- just how this new big three would cement his legacy as an NBA great by winning multiple rings. Now don’t get me wrong…. LeBron James is a great player, but his recent actions have caused many in the media to characterize him as a self-absorbed narcissist. I would have to agree with that assessment.

In contrast, there is the story of Armando Gallaraga. Now you may be sitting in your seat asking yourself, “Who the heck is Armando Gallaraga?” Armando Gallarago is a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who presently has a 4-7 record and a 4.5 ERA. One night in June he electrified Detroit by pitching a perfect game no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Now mind you, a perfect game has been pitched only 18 times in the history of the game! The only problem here is that it wasn’t considered a perfect game due to a colossal blunder by first base umpire Jim Joyce. In the top of the ninth with two men out, Gallaraga pitched to the 27th Cleveland batter, #9 hitter Jason Donald. Donald hit a ground ball between first and second, the first baseman Miguel Cabrera made a nice play and tossed it to a covering Gallaraga. While it was blatantly obvious that the runner was out, the umpire called him safe, thus ruining the perfect game. Despite the protests of the Detroit manager, Joyce and the umpire crew did not change the decision, nor did Gallaraga react negatively. Thus, Gallaraga finished with a one-hit shutout, not making history.

After the game, when Gallaraga was pressed by reporters how he felt by getting so robbed by such a bad call, Gallaraga just smiled and shrugged and said, “Everyone makes mistakes… those things happen in the game.” To his credit, the umpire apologized directly to Gallaraga for the bad call, and even pleaded with Major League Baseball to reverse his decision but to no avail. The very next day, at the start of the game, Gallaraga brought out the Tigers scorecard to Joyce, who was the home plate umpire. The two men talked, shook hands, and embraced. The crowd at Comerica Park gave them an extended standing ovation for the incredible class, grace, and sportsmanship that was displayed.

So what’s my point in sharing these two contrasting stories? In my opinion, the sports world needs more Armando Gallaragas. And the good news is that it can start with all of you! We need to consistently stress sportsmanship- and respecting the game and each other- much more than winning and losing. We need to always conduct ourselves with class and dignity, as things in the game don’t always go as planned. These simple ideas transcend the playing field and will always be applicable to life- well after your high school playing days are over.

Chances are you will never play on as big of a stage as a LeBron James or Armando Gallaraga. However, your impact on your peers can be just as great. The way in which your impact will be realized is leading by example, namely by consistently making good decisions, treating all with respect, and exercising good sportsmanship. This is the true measure of your character as athletes, and most importantly, as leaders. I am confident you will live up to this challenge.

Have a great day, and best of luck in all of your seasons! Thank you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Could the iPad Be a "Game Changer"?

During the tax-free holiday weekend in August, I woke up early and made my way to the Mansfield Best Buy for its 7:00 am opening. I was glad that I did, as I waited for the doors to open along with 50 or so other folks, with at least 48 of them being there for the same reason I was: to purchase an iPad. That day they were selling them like hotcakes!

I got myself one... actually it was for my 10-year old daughter, Molly. My wife and I decided that it would be a nice back to school investment for her, as she was entering the fifth grade and starting a new school. While she has definitely used it a great deal, and has downloaded a plethora of applications and silly games, I have been pleasantly surprised with its value as much more than an electronic game. Last Thursday night in our family room I noticed Molly very quietly and intently studying the iPad screen. When I asked her what she was doing, she informed me that she was reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, a book that her class was assigned to read. On her own she downloaded the work from iBooks and was enjoying reading it. Seeing this with my own child made me think of the larger possibilities....

The iPad is a tablet PC, and there's certainly nothing new about that. However, its slick and intuitive Apple interface make it very appealing. When Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs did the iPad product launch, he heralded it as downright revolutionary, as its superior text/book download and visual capacities would ultimately be the new medium for the fledgling newspaper and newsmagazine industry. While I question this, it is interesting think of the potential once the cost of technology like the iPad decreases even more. Education columnists and bloggers speculate that the iPad could replace the use of textbooks where students would simply download the textbooks they needed from year to year. The textbook content could be much more interactive, incorporating video as well chat, wiki, and blog capacities. Needless to say, this would be greatly beneficial to the environment, cutting down on all of that paper.

As of today, Apple has developed over 5,000 educational applications for use with K-12 students. As an example, here is The Elements: A Visual Exploration that could be used in any physical science or chemistry class. Check it out:
Think of the potential applications or "apps" yet to be developed-ones that could help the Web 2.0 generation process, synthesize, and evaluate new information. This technology has potential that I believe we have not fully tapped.

Most of all, the iPad is mobile- and invites peer interaction (such as discussions and editing), collaboration, productivity, and communication- essential skills for college and career readiness. Like most technologies, it is only as good as the skill of the teacher who is using it to facilitate the learning. In other words, it's only as good as how it's used.

But the possibilities!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Green Roof?? A Great Start!

When students returned to MHS this past week they noticed something new when they used the stairwell on the far end of the building near the modular classrooms. It looked like this:What they noticed was the fruition of the senior project of recent alum Kjirsten Seiler, '10. During last school year Kjirsten researched the topic of the green roof, a roof (or a portion of a roof) that is covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. This type of roof has become more popular in the past 5-10 years, particularly in new urban construction. Its benefits include providing insulation, absorbing rainwater, reducing heat loss and energy consumption, and filtering out pollutants and carbon dioxide of the air.

While the scope of this project was small (only a portion of the roof to the modular wing was done), Kjirsten planned everything and constructed it over the summer with the help of some MHS friends. This includes the frame, the membrane, the drainage system, the medium, and plants. Interestingly enough, Kjirsten used a product known as GaiaSoil as the growing medium. This "soil" is an ultra-light, recycled foam that is enriched with nutrients so vegetation may grow. She also planted very low maintenance, ground cover plants such as sedum album and sedum pachycladus, ones that should flower in the spring.

With an increased emphasis on schools to be "green," this addition certainly is a timely one. More importantly, it was the culmination of one student's project-based learning. This topic is clearly one that Kjirsten is passionate about, so much so that she would like students from successive classes to continue the project, building their own sections. Perhaps that vision may be realized...

Many thanks also to MPS Director of Buildings & Grounds Walter Parker for his help with this project!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

MA Scores $250 M in Race To The Top.... What Does It Mean?

Last week came the monumental news that the Commonwealth was one of the 12 recipients of the federal government's Race to the Top competition. Largely based upon total student population, Massachusetts was awarded $250 million by the US Department of Education. This is certainly great news.... but to be clear, by no means is this extra money for the operating expenses of cash-strapped districts. Rather, it is an infusion of funds for a four-year period to help accelerate the reforms envisioned by the Obama administration.

As the Massachusetts RTTT application indicates, the vision of the use of the funds is clearly aligned with the RTTT Program priorities: improving standards and assessments, improving teacher and principal quality, improving data systems that support instruction, and support to turn around failing schools. While implementing the four "turnaround" strategies is important for schools with chronic failure as measured by poor MCAS scores, poor graduation & attendance rates, etc., I honestly don't believe that aspect of the grant will affect our world that much in Mansfield. Here are the areas in which I believe it will:

1. Along with 34 other states and the District of Columbia, Massachusetts has adopted the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and mathematics. This set of rigorous standards will replace the MA Curriculum Frameworks which have been in place since the early 1990's. While the new standards are very closely aligned with the existing MA standards, some curricular adjustments will need to be made in various grade levels. The grant calls for the provision of numerous curriculum maps and resources to help teachers with this change. Also, we can anticipate that the MCAS in ELA and mathematics will change, as a new state assessment (one that is computer-based) will commence in 2014 or 2015. Needless to say, there has been considerable political debate about this potential move.

2. Massachusetts' already rich education data warehouse will become more user-friendly, providing a wealth of information on student performance for teachers. However, accountability will take a quantum leap forward as the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) will require all districts to provide student schedules and teacher names for the data warehouse database. The intent is to link student performance and growth on MCAS with individual teachers and classrooms. For teachers who do not teach MCAS-tested subjects, the grant calls for the creation and implementation of benchmark assessments to be given at all grade levels. Similar to MCAS results, student performance on these assessments would be tracked back to individual teachers.

3. The RTTT grant also will provide for a new teacher and principal evaluation framework that will help both have clearer standards of performance. A huge change here is the provision that student performance (as measured by MCAS results, benchmark assesssment results, MCAS growth factor, etc.) should be a significant portion of the criteria by which teacher and principal effectiveness is evaluated. Needless to say, the is an enormous shift!!

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the coming year. Of the grant, $125 million is staying at DESE to develop these structures. The other half will be dispersed to the districts who signed on to RTTT vis-a-vis Title I eligibility. This money very much will have strings attached, as the expectation will be to have completed targets in the above strategic areas. To see this work through will take a tremendous amount of time and effort, but I believe that it is the next step in the standards and accountability evolution.