Tuesday, March 27, 2007
posted by Q6 at 8:49 PM
The five of you that read this blog know what I have against PowerPoint presentations. I've blogged once or twice about how most people turn PowerPoint into meeting-based agony. They should just e-mail me the .pps file, sit down, and shut up.

Want to see an OUTSTANDING PowerPoint presentation? Have I got a teacher for you! I observed a Spanish 1 class today (learned more Spanish in those 45 minutes than I did in the whole 10th grade, by the way), and the teacher had this kickass Powerpoint. In teaching her lesson, one about comparisons, she stood before the screen with the remote in her hand and asked students about the objects and people that danced around her. Using the animation functions, she made the pictures slide in and out of the frame around her while she spoke. She used this program as part of her presentation, not as the presentation itself. It was the best use of a PowerPoint I've seen on this campus in years.

Best part for her? I was there to prepare her evaluation. :)

posted by Q6 at 8:12 PM
Our school will soon be launching a new performing arts academy. Today I learned that the students who will join this academy will satisfy their foreign language requirement by taking French. No choice, just French. After I learned all the other details about this program, the principal asked us to throw questions at her, tough ones, like the ones she was going to get at the parent meeting this evening. I decided to throw out the first pitch.

"Why French?" I asked.

"Because it's the language of The Arts," was her obviously-rehearsed reply. You could have heard a pin drop at that point. Then . . .

"Shakespeare wrote in English," I offered. Responses from other staff members included "Operas are in Italian," and "Some of the first plays were in Greek."

"Okay, but the people we've conferred with about this have suggested that French is the best language for students in this academy."

"Then say that," I replied. "But don't tell people that French is the language of The Arts, because it isn't."

I don't know how well the whole acad-- . . . you know what? Nevermind. I think that pretty much says it all.

posted by Q6 at 7:52 PM
One of the principals I work for is on a quest: she wants our school to be the number one school in the county. Right now our API ranks third behind two schools in a neighboring district. Every time I hear this "number one" crap I want to walk out of the room. (Actually, I want to yell at her; that wouldn't play well at my dismissal hearing, though.)

Make sense of this: her quest is based solely on our API, a number calculated using our students' individual test scores on the state exams, and a number which, for us, is the highest in our district; she's comparing our API to the APIs of two schools we aren't in competition with unless we choose to be (and it's not like we can steal someone else's customers to pull this off, anyway--we have ZERO impact on the other schools' numbers); and we've already got students pushing themselves to the point of fracture to succeed. I'm not even going to try and list the myriad things we do at this school to help the students, the parents, and the community. All she's looking at is the goddamned test scores. (Show me the school that has the lowest number of students testing "below proficient"; that'll impress me.)

Here's how this should work: we should serve the needs of our students. We should build our academic program around the goals we set for our students. We shouldn't even care what the other schools test scores look like, since we have no impact on them and they have no impact on us. We should do what we can for our students.

Why don't I agree with the principal who wants our school to become the number one school in the county? Because I think it already is.

posted by Q6 at 7:38 PM
Our teachers are pissed.

Not long ago, a bar graph of teacher salaries across the county was displayed for our district's Board of Education. The graph showed the mean salary of each district from highest to lowest. Our district was the lowest. So now our teachers (and their union) are negotiating with the district for a salary increase. Seems normal enough.

Here's what, as I see it, is not so normal. Of the eleven or so districts in our county there are only two that are "basic aid" districts (which means that our funding doesn't come from the state based on attendance; we get ours from all the local property taxes in our district--you gotta wonder why we even care about attendance), and ours is one. The other basic aid district was on the OTHER side of the bar graph. I don't get that, unless we're really doing weird things with the money. The other abnormality I see is that the teachers' union isn't doing all that good a job at the bargaining table. As one teacher put it, their union reps are arguing over "whether to bend over a little, or bend over a lot."

Then, of course, there's the argument that lower salaries drive away the quality teachers. True, we've seen a lot of turnover in the last few years, and I'm sure (now that it's been translated into a graph and all) that salaries have something to do with it. I'm reading a biography of Walt Disney--a really good one--and there was a point at which Disney was frustrated by the economics of his studio: early on, he made high quality films and almost lost his shirt doing it; later, he had to lessen the quality to make the pictures profitable (or at least break even). Oddly enough, this happened not long after his studio cartoonists unionized.

Quality costs. If the district wants to keep quality teachers, it may have to choose them over flashy technology improvements and specialized academies.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
posted by Q6 at 11:14 PM
I realize that by becoming an Assistant Principal I took on a certain amount of "extra" responsibility--and by "extra," I mean that just about anything can be incorporated into my job description without any extra pay or release time. I get that, and that's fine. When I get overwhelmed, though, things can get rough . . . because the only support I seem to get anymore is a single sentence: "Well, that's part of your job." Here are a few observations I've made over the last several months:

Observation 1: Delegation is Not an Option

I'm the only one who can do my job. Seriously. There is no one else on this campus that do the things I do. I know this because whenever I try to delegate a task to someone seemingly competent--even those who may have the same task in their job descriptions as well--the response I get is "No, I can't do that."

Observation 2: Time is an Illusion
My work day is cut into three chunks: the first, then break supervision, the second, then lunch supervision, and the the third. During the first chunk, I'm approached by parents who have no appointment and tell me what they need by way of their life stories; during the second, for some weird reason, I have just enough time to tie my shooes and use the restroom; during the third, I seem to get some things accomplished. It's odd, too, because so many teachers tell me I'm the administrator they approach to get things done. (Me?)

Observation 3: There's an Invisible Sign on My Door
It says, "It doesn't matter what I'm doing or how much stuff is on my desk--it doesn't even matter if I'm talking on the phone--just come on in without knocking and ask me if I've got a minute. Before I answer, begin explaining to me what you need. The Universe revolves around you, not me."

Observation 4: Great Ideas and How to Kill Them
We had a big gaping hole in our communication infrastructure, and I figured out a way to plug it. It would be fun ('cause I like blogging), it wouldn't take long at all, and it wouldn't fall on anyone else's plate but mine. But I make this same mistake every few years: I take a really effective idea and I screw it up by asking permission. Evidently, a general Q & A blog leaves a school district open to liability--or, more likely, they're afraid I'll answer the questions honestly.

Observation 5: Apparently, I'm a Spy
My girlfriend teaches high school on my campus (relax . . . in a 7-12 environment, a middle school administrator can do that), and it has raised the administrative paranoia beyond "Condition Red." I have to be told every few days that I can't leak valuable information to the other side. It's never said that way, of course, but the implication is like pancake batter. I'm just wondering when they'll figure out that I argue with them NOT because I'm representing my teacher loyalty, but because I genuinely believe their ideas suck . .

posted by Q6 at 11:09 PM
When I was in high school I had a job as an announcer at a racetrack. I would call the races, give colorful commentary, and manage the races. My favorite (and therefore most frequent) assignment was calling the radio-controlled races (1/10th scale cars) because I could see the whole track and I wouldn't need to look at the computer to see who was winning.

So I get approached by the baseball coach the other day, and he asks me if I would be interested in announcing at our school's home games. I was a little worried about my schedule, but since the baseball field is on the opposite end of campus from my desk . . . well, how could I pass that up? I was looking for an excuse to go to our baseball games, anyway.

Overheard in the crowd on my first day: "This new guy's pretty good. He was a little rusty the first two innings, but he's gotten better."
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
posted by Q6 at 10:12 PM
So I'm in charge of school attendance now. I used to just be the "Administrator-of Attendance-Office-Oversight." I was just the guy the A.O. went to when they needed help. Now, by decree of my immediate superiors, and in light of the recent rise in attendance problems*, I am now running the Attendance Office. They don't just want me there for support; they want me to fix the whole damn problem. On top of everything else I have to do around here (which increases week by week, depending on how capable I seem at things), the last thing I have time for is to overhaul something as basic as attendance services. Moreover, there's a quiet push by a group of teachers to take them out of the attendance enforcement equation. So not only am I reinventing the system, I have to make it administration-topheavy.

The real kicker here? I think I figured out how to do it.

* When I say problems, I mean that our overall attendance has slipped from 96% to about 94%. If ever there was a need for some "big picture" thinking . . .
Friday, March 02, 2007
posted by Q6 at 5:38 PM
The Future: Ill-Versed.
Information: Enemy!
Questions: Unanswered.