Superintendent’s Message: A Great Start for 2015-2016

[Para leer este mensaje en Español, haga clique aquí.]

Welcome to the 2015-2016 school year!

The first Friday of the school year has already come and gone. We’re completely done with months of preparation and training; cleaning and organizing; vacationing and planning. Three days ago we were ready to start. Today, you might be surprised to know that the school year is already almost 2% complete.

It’s clearly time for a progress report on how things have been going. The short answer is: It’s been going extremely well.

The longer answer is that hours of planning and preparing have paid off. The dedication of District staff is apparent all year, but it’s especially visible in the last weeks of summer as the school offices reopen, teachers return, and the anticipation of new classes builds toward the first day. We all want the first day to be smooth and productive for students. We know that every day at school counts; that every minute of learning matters.

On the first day, I visited classrooms at every school and saw students fully engaged and teachers leading classroom activities that were creating the foundation for the challenging lessons that lie ahead this year. It was the first day, but there was evidence of strategic purpose at every turn. In a Kindergarten class, I saw a teacher using an effective strategy to bring the class’s attention to the front. It’s a “five clap.” When the teacher calls for a five clap, the students respond by clapping five times and bringing their attention to the teacher. This typical first-day activity not only works well to bring the attention of excited children back to the teacher, it also begins emphasizing a critical number pattern based around the number five – a pattern that supports developing number sense and will later help simplify the complexities of rigorous math expectations. It’s simple kindergarten strategy that brings attention to the teacher. It also serves as a foundational math skill. It’s happening on day one. It’s happening in kindergarten. It’s happening before the first recess.

As I walked by another classroom, I heard the 3rd grade teacher challenge his class to line up at the door in alphabetical order by last name. Students were allowed 90 seconds to get the task done – and they completed it with 100% accuracy in 17 seconds. The teacher used the moment to support a simple subtraction problem and used the answer to congratulate the class for the amount of time they had saved by staying focused and on task. He placed value on efficiency and value on the saved time. He reinforced literacy and math standards AND the message that every minute matters. Day one. Before the first recess.

Throughout my day of visiting our nine individually unique, and collectively excellent schools, I was presented with examples of “making every minute matter” in every room; at every grade level. Even my brief visits revealed learning in progress through reading, writing, math, science, and more. On the first day of school. I saw teachers and students engaged. I saw classrooms and playgrounds alive with learning and fun. I saw purpose at every interaction. I saw children new to school who were looking all over the school in search of the Gingerbread Man – and in the process meeting important school staff, exploring the library, and learning their way around. I even caught a glimpse of a dedicated employee hiding out wearing a Gingerbread Man costume. At more than one school, I noted the faint smell of gingerbread. I saw every minute matter.

Now that almost 2% (okay it’s really 1.6% rounded up to 2%) of the year is gone, I rest assured that anyone who missed the first three days has missed the very real, tangible value of those three days. And every day missed from here on out will count. Every minute will matter.

How are things going so far?

From my perspective, we’re off to a strong start for a great year. If you want to know the most important thing you can do to make this the best year possible for your children and your family – the place to start is to be present; to keep engaged; to communicate regularly with your school and your children’s teachers and to understand the importance of involvement throughout the year.

On Monday morning, we begin day four. There’s 98.4% of the year to go. Let’s make it count. Let’s make it matter.

Bill Banning