Resourcefulness in the Web 2.0 world

A group of teachers were discussing options available to students who didn’t have internet access at home.  One teacher said teachers should treat access issues as a means of promoting resourcefulness. Kids could just go to the public library or to someplace with wireless access.

I decided to test how well that theory would work in the rural school district in which I live.

Bainbridge-Guilford CSD is primarily in Chenango County, NY. BG takes in small bits of two other counties: Delaware County, across the Susquehanna River, and Otsego County a few miles to the northeast.

For the sake of making things easy to follow, let’s say BG 11th grade social studies student Terry Nonet is assigned a team project on Monday that’s due the following Monday. It requires students to divvy up online research and put their findings in a Google doc.

Terry is in luck. He has a week to work on his project. He’d have been in trouble if he had one or more online assignments to do overnight. With a week to arrange to get Internet access, he may be able to complete the assignment.

The Bainbridge Free Library has four public access computers, available for one hour on a first-come, first-served basis. The library is open several times when Terry could go there outside of school hours:

  • Monday: 1 pm-5 pm; 6 pm-9 pm
  • Tuesday: 1 pm-6 pm
  • Thursday: 1 pm-5 pm; 6 pm-9 pm

Terry ought to be able to get to the library even if it’s 20 miles from his home and his family has only one car which his mom needs to go to her minimum-wage job in Norwich. Terry might have to miss work or leave his younger siblings unsupervised after school in order to do his social studies project, but meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

Terry has another possibility.

The Chenango County Public Transit system stop in Bainbridge is just three blocks from BG High School. For a buck, Terry could hop a bus after school (there’s one that leaves Bainbridge at 4:30 pm) and go to Sidney where the Sidney Memorial Public Library has six public access computers available one hour per day to anyone with a fine-free library card.

The Sidney library is open until 8:30 pm so even if Terry has to wait for a computer, he ought be able to get access for an hour. If he needs more time, he could hike out to Kmart and use the public access computers there. It’s about a two-mile walk from the library to Kmart, but Terry could have free use of the computers adjacent to the customer service desk for 15 minutes.

The only difficulty Terry might encounter if he goes to Sidney to use the Internet is getting home. The next bus back to Bainbridge won’t leave until 5:50 the following morning. Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

Terry hasn’t exhausted all his possibilities yet. He could go to a public library on Saturday.

There is no public transportation on Saturday in Chenango County so he’d have to hitch a ride to Bainbridge or to one of the member libraries of the Four County Library System that are open on Saturdays and provide public access computers. He’d have to present a fine-free library card, wait his turn, and do all his work within an hour, and get back home again. With a little luck, he’ll be able to do that and go to his part-time job and take care of his younger siblings while his mother goes to her minimum-wage job in Norwich.

Of course, with all the waiting around for public access computers, Terry probably won’t have time to do his part of the project and interact with his team, too. Terry’s teacher will probably mark him down for that. And since he won’t have the opportunities for online interaction that his more affluent peers with their laptops and broadband have, he’ll be at a disadvantage if he goes to college.

Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

The really sensible thing for Terry to do is get himself a laptop computer with wireless access so he wouldn’t have to depend on public libraries for a computer. If he’s really careful with the money he has left after he buys groceries for the household and doesn’t take any time off from his part-time job to go to the library to do his homework, he ought to be able to save enough money eventually to buy a laptop so he can do his homework in a place that has free wireless access.

Apparently, the only unsecured wireless access point in Bainbridge is the public library. The service is available 24/7, but unfortunately there is no public place where Terry can use a laptop after school when the library is closed unless he goes to Bob’s Diner, which is probably not the best place to do a social studies assignment.

The other public libraries in the Four County Library System offer wireless. There are also two Delaware County businesses that offer free wireless access within eight miles of the center of Bainbridge. But even if Terry had his own laptop, there’s the problem of transportation to and from the wireless access site. Chenango County public transport stops running before 7 pm weekdays and there is no weekend service. Delaware County has no public transportation at all.

Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

Hands-on learning is not just for kids

I attended a local school board meeting a few weeks ago at which a team of teachers gave a presentation about a survey they had conducted on bullying. The report was to have been presented months earlier, but the team had difficulties collating and analyzing the data.

One of the teachers said the team had not realized they needed to ask all participants the same questions in order to be able to compare answers given by different groups of stakeholders.

I came home wondering why such a small survey in a restricted setting was so difficult.

And don’t most people know about what happens when you compare apples to oranges? Basic survey design is a skill that the NCTE/IRA standards say students should develop before high school graduation.

Why did these women trained in education have so much difficulty handling what to me are routine information analysis tasks?

The first reason is that they studied to become teachers and I didn’t. Teacher education coursework at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level typically doesn’t include instruction in how to do original research, whereas my undergraduate psychology program required a course in statistics and a senior research project.

Two young men working in office side-by--side, one on phone

But I probably would not know much more about research than the teacher team if it weren’t for my work experiences.

In college, I was a reader for a visually handicapped student with whom I took several courses. Instead of reading her the statistics book with its diagrams and formulas, I took her to the chemistry lab where there were chalkboards on three walls. I taught her the material, writing everything on the board in letters big enough for her to read. Tutoring her, I learned how to think in terms of usable data.

Much later at Syracuse University, I was graduate assistant for William E. Casey Jr., who is now vice president for special projects at the Wall Street Journal. Students in one of his newspaper classes conducted phone interviews for a political polls using questions developed by professional journalists. I helped key in the results. From that experience, I learned not only about wording questions, but also about how to organize a survey project.

I needed that knowledge when I and a colleague were assigned to develop election polling for The Journal, in Martinsburg, WV. She and I developed the questions, designed the sample, trained interviewers, and wrote the news stories while continuing our regular work and meeting our daily deadlines. My colleague was Marcia Langhenry, now with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who was a team player before the term became a buzz word.

My work experiences—from cleaning rat cages to developing instructional packages for the pharmaceutical industry—are where I got my real education, the knowledge and skills I use every week. (They are also where I began developing a network of professional contacts outside academia.)

Perhaps preservice teachers need more hands-on experiences early in their academic careers to give them a context for their classroom experiences.

Perhaps in-service teachers need hands-on professional development opportunities in the form of sabbaticals working in jobs other than education.

I even go so far as to recommend ELA teachers find summer work as a way to find out what actual skills entry-level employees must have.

Photo credit: Business contact! by Wagg66

What’s professional development for?

June 16 at the Bainbridge-Guilford school board meeting, a panel of teachers recommended that the board bring in an outside consultant at a cost of $7,000 per day to teach the school staff to deal with bullying.

William Tammaro,  Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego BOCES superintendent, said if BG could get another district to join in the training,  the $7,000 cost could be covered by BOCES aid. BOCES aid means taxpayers would fund the training from their state taxes instead of their local property taxes.

One of the teachers had attended a seminar led by the consultant the team recommended. She gave a glowing testimonial to the value of the seminar information to classroom teachers.

Some things about this proposal puzzle me.

If there is a teacher on staff who has been trained in procedures for countering bullying, why is it necessary to bring in an outside consultant to share that information with the staff? Isn’t taxpayer-provided professional development for teachers supposed to enable them to teach others?

Of course, it is possible that the teacher could not learn all she needed to learn in one session. Would putting all teachers in the school district through one session of training have better results?

That’s the $7,000 question.

Wheeler to head Bainbridge-Guilford

Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District appointed Donald Wheeler, EdD, its next superintendent of schools last night.

The meeting was announced to the school staff via an unsigned memo from board president Charles A. Blincoe on Thursday afternoon and an agenda (pdf only) was also posted on the school website that afternoon. The name of the candidate does not appear on the agenda, which was the only document available to members of the public at or before the meeting.

Blincoe said the board chose Wheeler because his vision corresponded to the board’s. Blincoe did not provide any information about Wheeler’s background or experience to the public attending the session. Perhaps the only people who need to know that information already knew it.

Wheeler is to begin on or about August 1.

He was given a three-year contract at an undisclosed salary. According to the recruitment brochure for the superintendent’s position, which was available for a limited time earlier this year at the DCMO BOCES website, the salary range was to be $110,000 to $130,000.

Since I sat on the community representative committee, I have information not available to the public.

Wheeler is presently assistant superintendent of Hudson Falls Central School District, where he has been since July 2009. Prior to that, he was curriculum coordinator for General Brown Central School District for almost two years.

His teaching experience was primarily in high school English at North Syracuse CSD, Newark CSD, and Northstar Christian Academy.

Wheeler received his BA from St. John Fisher College and his MS in education from Nazareth College. He holds a certificate of advanced study in English education and another in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation, both from Syracuse University. His EdD in Educational Leadership is also from Syracuse.

Wheeler’s doctoral thesis is Using a Summative Assessment Alignment Model and the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to Improve Curriculum Development, Instruction, and Evaluation.  The dissertation is unpublished.

Superintendent interview panels meet

This afternoon was the meeting for panelists on teams to interview candidates for the superintendent’s job at Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District.

DCMO BOCES Superintendent William Tammaro began the session by telling us the BG board is interviewing six candidates this week, so we will not have information about the three finalists until next week.

Tammaro also said that he was instructed by the BG board to look for candidates that would come with the intent of staying five to 15 years. He said all six of the people the board is interviewing would come with the expectation of staying five or more years.

Tammaro gave us each packets of information that included a copy of the brochure used to recruit candidates for the job, which, as I reported earlier,  was not available from the school’s website or the BOCES website last week.

The advance memo about the meeting said we’d be given information on questioning techniques. What Tammaro provided was a standard list of questions that are illegal to ask during an interview, which can be downloaded from dozens of places on the web. A couple of people on the panel with me might have been helped by some general suggestions about formulating interview questions.

He said each panel would have “about an hour” to interview candidates. He suggested we leave 10 minutes for a candidate to ask questions. He said he recommended we have 20 questions to fill the rest of the time. All candidates are to be asked the same initial questions, though follow-up questions can vary.

After each candidate interview, each of the five interview panels (teachers, support staff, students, administrative committee, and community members) is to draft an immediate report to the board of education. Although Tammaro did not say so, the report form says the reaction is to  be unanimous. If it is not, a minority report can be attached to the majority report.

Each panel is to present its report in the form of a two-item questionnaire:

  1. What strengths do you believe this candidate has with regard to the Superintendency in Bainbridge-Guilford?
  2. To what extent do you see this candidate “fitting in” to the Superintendent’s position in Bainbridge-Guilford?

The panel of community members is scheduled to meet with candidates from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the report must be delivered to the board by 6 p.m. That 30-minute time frame does not permit a particularly thoughtful response, even if the questions were designed to elicit one.

Asking only about a candidate’s strengths strikes me as potentially dangerous.  A candidate may have several strengths that are canceled by serious weaknesses.

Moreover, I’m not sure that “fitting in” is what I want in a school leader. I don’t want someone who is going to make a religion of doing things differently. On the other hand, I don’t want a superintendent to fit in so well she or he disappears in the crowd.

Followers fit in.

People with low expectations fit in.

Superficial thinkers fit in.

Educators who don’t keep on learning fit in.

Administrators who don’t rock the boat fit in.

And folks who bring more than two dozen people to a two-hour meeting to do a handful of tasks that could have been accomplished online in a few minutes fit in best of all.

Superintendent candidate questions

I am on a committee of community members to interview candidates for superintendent of  Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District.  Other committees are comprised of representatives of teachers, support staff, and students.

I have a fairly good idea of what to expect from having served as an educator representative on a superintendent search committee, as well as from my own experience hiring staff for education and publishing jobs.

I couldn’t locate a copy of the recruitment brochure for the superintendent position at either the school website or the DCMO BOCES website. In the mailed information packets, committee members are told that at the May 9 orientation we will:

1. meet each other;
2. receive information regarding how the teams will operate, what questions can and cannot be asked, how the team will communicate feedback to the Board, questioning techniques, information on each candidate;
3. organize itself by selecting a facilitator, developing the questions the team will ask, and determining who will ask what questions.

In my preparation for the orientation meeting, I’ve developed a tentative lists of questions that I thought were reasonable for someone outside the actual school operation to ask. They fall roughly into three categories: community relations, technology & lifelong learning, instructional leadership.

My preliminary list of questions is below. What’s missing? What’s there that shouldn’t be there?

Community relations

Describe the role you play in the community in which your present school district is located.

What were the most and least successful community outreach activities you personally undertook at your current school district?

In the school district in which you presently work, what are the most effective and the least effective means of informing the community about academic the district is making?

How will you involve the parents and business community in improving students’ academic performance?

The annual budget preparation process has been acrimonious in many school districts around the state this year. One sore point in many districts has been layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals while administrator positions were not cut. Describe how your district dealt with this issue and what it could have done better.

Describe some of the challenges you had to overcome in working with entrenched interests in the schools or community, and explain how you established positive working relationships.

Drawing both on what you know about this school district and what you do not know about it, list the top three challenges you would face immediately if you were hired as superintendent. Describe briefly the first step you’d take to meet each challenge.

The communities in which schools are located can influence the school in positive or negative ways. In the district in which you presently work, what community characteristics had the most impact on the school’s mission. Please mention one characteristic with positive impact and one with negative impact.

Tell us about a program for using non-parent community resources you personally were involved with that had significant impact on students’ academic success.

Describe one research study with relevance to education and tell us steps you would take to implement a new program or policy or modify existing ones based on the research.

Technology & lifelong learning

As superintendent, you’d be expected to be a model of lifelong learning. Describe two or three learning activities you engage in regularly that provide a model of lifelong learning for your school staff and for the community outside school. How do you make people aware of your ongoing learning activities?

Tell us how you built and maintain your personal learning network.

Describe your experience learning and teaching online.

How do you keep up with the current trends in education as a whole and, more specifically, the interface of technology in education and society?

What are two or three technological learning tools you personally use regularly, and what do these technology tools do for you?

What do you see as the role of technology in a rural school district?

Instructional leadership

What is your definition of student success and how do you measure it?

What instructional in-service programs would you institute for new teachers and administrators?

How do you encourage, motivate, challenge the instructional team in your school district?

What teacher evaluation and development techniques have you adopted in your present job that were most successful?

What quantifiable data would you use to demonstrate that the district was progressing toward an exemplary program?

As instructional leader for your district, what curriculum/instructional actions have you taken in the past that move the district toward exemplary performance?

Describe your greatest accomplishment in facilitating successful student performance district wide.