Band Participation Bodes Well For Future Employability (and that is not all!)

scott1What a fun time it is with our ZCHS Eagles Marching Band and Color Guard winning the Scholastic A Division of the Indiana State School Music Association state contest. Every single one of these hard-working and talented marcher, musician, faux gun (and key and sword) tossing flag artists/dancers do band/guard for their own reasons of interest and passion. This weekend they will showcase at Lucas Oil Stadium before a statewide crowd.

I could (and often do) go ON AND ON AND ON about the many ways that ZCS students have academic and non-cognitive skills experiences during and after school days in this great place to come of age. Professional literature has a good bit to say about how non-cognitive skills and traits align with successful, productive lives, bankable employability, and more. So, I’m proposing that we make a key change of wording in Zionsville to drive more awareness and more thoughtfulness, respect even, about the VITAL ROLE that non-cognitive, non-fixed skills and dispositions play in the building of whole humans better insulated against risk-taking, stress, self-medication, or worse.

Academics/cognitive ability, knowledge, learnedness and knowing how to learn, THESE ARE VITAL!

Let’s now make obsolete the statement that non-cognitive/soft skills are “important” right after having extolled the imperative of strong cognitive skills. Yep, a pretty small change, but building awareness and action can assist us in partnering to instill this truth through experiences that elevate ZCS students.

Please do sustain and celebrate the systematic ways that you enhance non-cognitive skills in your home through playing board games together, going on night walk-and-talks (no matter how old the kids are!), having dinner together without technology, and much more beyond simple but important interactions. Please keep helping us celebrate and foster the thousands of kids who are growing through team effort in athletics (youth league through varsity), clubs and Eagle Recreation, service opportunities, and more.

The ZCS-parent-student partnership has established a great tradition of academic successes and college-going with impressive scholarship awards (more than $15M for the Class of 2016). Year-in and year-out I meet our seniors and marvel at the truly beautiful mix of cognitive and interpersonal skills, dispositions, and courtesy that happened only through the diligence of graduates’ first teachers (their parents). And yet, I believe quite fervently that the world (ubiquitous social media) in which our children are coming of age has in the past decade mounted a formidable challenge to our partnering efforts to grow non-cognitive skills in these youth. We still win against this insurgency in the vast majority of cases, but too many times I see that kids with everything going for them are self-loathing or professing emptiness, stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and abusing substances. Too many times I see that self-defeating and even self-harming behaviors transcend that old saw of merely being the stupidity attributable to youth (especially in the life and death examples).

Great academic outcomes… Yes. The vast majority of young people thriving and building so effectively BOTH of the vital components of growth we dreamed for them when first they made us parents… Yes.  Something brewing in the national culture that is manifesting with negatives for too many of our young people… You bet.

Bumping NCS (non-cognitive skills) up to “vital” status is not likely enough, but it can help to foster awareness and action by parents, teachers, counselors, and other community members/entities who can grow in attentiveness to how we can both sustain ZCS successes and go from remarkably good to really great (read: safer, better at building the human capital that is our youth, and stronger in every way).


Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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G by E — Motivatin’

Scott RobisonMy dad drove too fast sometimes. I know because his third job of four* during my middle school years awakened me at 3AM on most Sunday mornings. As the “folder/thrower” on a two or three man team, I was small enough to fit in the back of the car with hundreds of copies of the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper as we made our way across more than 100 miles of a rural route in Southern Indiana north and west of Louisville.
“We’re motivatin’ now!” Dad would say as we entered Crawford County, fast on the last leg of our trek in effort to make it back to New Albany in time for church.
To Dad, “motivatin’ was Southern Indiana drawl for moving really fast—making good time.
I grew up in a family with a demographic profile very foreign to most ZCS students. Though adjusted by many decades, my brothers and I got the “G” by the “E” just as a great many ZCS kids get today.  That is, I learned grit by example. My parents worked so hard and expected that we work hard to contribute whatever we could—so we did.
Grit by example was deeply motivating to me as a kid. Like most young people with engaged, positive, and resourceful dads, I worshipped mine. And everyone in our small city on the river knew my dad, too. They greeted him with a smile, and each of them seemed to meet my brothers and me with an expectation that we’d be sturdy people, too. And so, we were.
A buzz of recent years in and around the world of educating young people has focused on motivation, grit, resilience—and how best to ensure that very young children get “sturdy” in a host of important ways before we turn them loose on society. Check out this six-minute video clip about this topic of universal importance to all young people of all ages:
G by E to all of you and your ZCS children. Thanks for choosing us for your child’s education during these critical developmental ages and stages of pre-K through grade 12. We are truly motivatin’ along into this new school year and are striving to partner with you in the best ways possible. Sure, we want to add the value of scholarship instilled in engaging ways, but we also chase after the ultimate goal of all parents, educating our kids in all ways essential to helping them grow into resilient, future-ready citizens.
G by E!
Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools
*1. Kroger Company butcher
  2. Midnight to 8AM watchman at the New Albany Box and Basket Factory (on his one day off per week from Kroger)
  3. Sunday rural route delivery – The Louisville Courier-Journal
  4. Moonlighting at Joe Karem’s Meats after his day job at Kroger
  5. Oh, and he took in work as a jackleg mechanic for extra cash and sports equipment for his four kids
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On Helping Our Kids Be Strong in Every Way!

Scott RobisonA while back a friend asked me to take a road trip with him to see the places of his hardscrabble upbringing in small-town southwestern Indiana. After a year or three of talking about it, we finally set off together.

I was raised in southern Indiana, too. My brothers and I were unfamiliar with money and the things it bought, but after visiting the places where my friend grew up, and listening to the stories they revived for him, I had to seriously rethink my memories of the Robison boys being poor. In comparison, we were rich in dozens of ways that had little to do with money, travel, cultural experiences, or fancy possessions. We had family stability and amazing role models of work ethic. My friend…not at all.

Throughout the road trip I marveled at the grit and determination he showed at a very tender age. In the face of very long odds, he persisted to high school graduation,  military service,  good jobs, and college degrees—even a doctorate. He is a community leader now in his adopted hometown.  In the span of just a few hours, my respect grew mightily for my friend. His strength and the vision of what could be that led him to pursue a fulfilling life is something of a miracle to me.

The day after this “wander Indiana” experience, I stood in the doorway of a band classroom in one of our middle schools. Expert, dedicated teacher-musicians led talented, hardworking learners to perform a very difficult piece of music. It was majestic noise from about 100 players in a relatively small space, and the sound was amazing. I stood there, stunned by the professional quality of their work, pondering the positive, stable home/school settings that make the success of nearly all of these ZCS 12 year-olds not only possible, but strongly certain. Blessings, to be sure.

Coincidentally, my recent day trip to southern Indiana followed closely on the heels of a professional development session I attended with all of our ZCS school counselors. The presenter is leading a nearby community’s effort to focus attention upon common language and common research-based supports for raising strong, successful children. Our presenter challenged us to assess the common focus and supports from our own community, schools, government, churches, businesses, community organizations and residents for all our Zionsville children and adolescents.

I like this challenge for ZCS, and here’s why:

ZCS kids are blessed with support, robust life and learning experiences, and rich opportunities, but I have seen that this is not true for all.  What’s more, a lot of ZCS parents have shared with me some version of the following concerns for their children as they are coming of age in Zionsville—and rather than keep these genuine parent worries to ourselves, I think it’s time we share them openly and consider how to respond together:

  1. “I don’t understand why so many of our teenagers have so much—and yet feel so empty.”
  2. “Too often I hear about successful young people who are using drugs or alcohol. It scares me that my kid could fall into this trap.”
  3. “Our kids are growing up differently from how I did; they’ve been lucky because of my success.  I don’t think they realize it, and I don’t want them to take this lifestyle for granted or not have compassion and understanding for those with less. I struggle to create scarcity in the midst of our prosperity or make them understand that these things didn’t just come easily.”
  4. “I want my kid strong in the face of obstacles–not baffled, discouraged, or calling for rescue.”
  5. “It is hard to find ways to help my kids fail so that they learn about grit, persistence…reality!”

I respect my successful friend all the more after coming to know the places and stories of his childhood.  He overcame enormous odds and developed grit because for him, he made a conscious choice to alter his circumstance. Fortunately, few of our ZCS kids face those long odds thanks to stability of family, community and opportunity. But need is not always evidenced by the social or familial condition.

Compared with most other communities, Zionsville has relatively few poverty-imperiled people (though growing up poor in Zionsville is a very real problem for some). There are, however, children for whom the assets of affluence do not provide some key elements of growing up strong in every way.  Problem solving struggles that build toughness for the real world, service bigger than self, growth mindset experiences, and many other opportunities to develop capacity in youth can be systematically developed and implemented. I believe that we should study this topic—here, now, together in our community.  I raise with you today my very real priority to help us examine and define the assets, language, and knowledge for building resilience in this community’s young people. As good as we are, in what ways can we get better as school and family partners in building the array of tools and traits of lifelong resilience—the essential capacity of successful, productive living.

ZCS is re-establishing staffing for elementary teaching experts in physical education. As we do this, I am reminded of how we sought more than a restart of elementary science classes after losing these to funding issues in 2011. School leaders and parent advocates banded together to add significant new capacity in the form of our elementary STEM program, the first in Indiana to have all schools “STEM Certified” by the Indiana Department of Education.

The opportunity to remake yet another elementary program of significance is the opportunity to spark a wellness focus and trend beginning with our youngest learners. We must take this opportunity to spark big thinking about wellness, resilience, challenge and grit for the children of our community, so that they are equipped for the challenges of today and tomorrow. Our new wellness offerings at the elementary school level can be both a symbol of, and a real vehicle for, how our schools work in a supportive system to help Zionsville children be strong in every way. A 360-degree approach to teaching and fostering lifelong wellness, nutrition, and responsibility for one’s own health analytics, frequent (daily) movement, fitness, and so on—this must be our steadfast path.

This restoration of an elementary course with an elevated vision and scope is one thing. Additionally, I hope there are many positive forces in this community that will come together to assess, then build, capacity and supports to foster the cognitive, interpersonal, physical, and mental toughness required for success, strength, and wellness in adolescence and adulthood.

Parents of young students, and even early adolescents, are strongly encouraged to read The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. (Please see:

I am not being dramatic when I close by saying that in few–but still way too many—cases, this needed assessment and capacity building of assets in Zionsville is “do or die” for us as parents and community members. For youth who will survive the stresses and trials of growing up in the 2000’s, this is about an even firmer foundation—a stronger set of tools in their human toolkits upon leaving ZCS for lifelong success and wellness.

I’m glad you’re still reading this. Thanks for leading where you are and however you can as we embark upon this essential journey of growth and support for our youth.

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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December & January

December and January. Retrospectives and resolutions abound. In ZCS, too!Scott Robison

Looking backward with gratitude:  ZCS utilized every single penny of the 2012 operating referendum to sustain the academic program while keeping class sizes as low as possible during continued growth and declining state funding. This was done by applying the entire referendum to fund teacher and counselor positions as promised. Still, our high school students had to do without the amazing Project Lead the Way pre-engineering/problem solving curriculum that has become a staple in better funded Indiana schools, and our students also did without trained wellness/fitness teachers at the elementary level. An amazing posse of talented Zionsville folks contributed time, talent, and other resources to workarounds that could not be the real, full-time offerings, but these generous Z-people were committed and contributed much. We thank the likes of Laurie Wanser, Dr. David Dimmit, Body Outfitters, and many, many more.

Board planning and CFO leadership helped us lower our school tax rate by nearly 25% in 2015 due to smart debt management, and we utilized old bond proceeds to gain some needed classroom and event spaces at the high school without tax increase. Leading a statewide lobbying effort, we helped generate legislator understanding about the broken school funding formula. (Your calls, emails, and letters were instrumental in this first of several similar efforts in legislative budget years ahead. Thank you.)

Looking forward with excited resolve:  The entire 2015 operating referendum will Looking Forwardalso be spent entirely on teacher and counselor services in our still-growing school community. Project Lead the Way will be recommended for the high school and for some expansion at the middle school level. In the spring I will recommend that we restore a wellness/fitness curricular component to each elementary program. This is exciting, and we know it is only possible because of support from the majority of local voters who expect great schools and stewardship of resources.

A fresh update on our demographic study is due in early 2016 as well. This will help with a new five-year plan that for the first time in a decade does not focus solely on whether or not we will have to reduce programs and services because of staff cuts. Stability is a watchword for us now—in class sizes and in programs that we have saved through every round of austerity our lack of state funding has ordained.

I am excited for our ZCS kids, and I share the resolve of colleagues and servant leader Board of Trustees members to ensure stewardship of taxpayers’ resources. Excited resolve.  Looking back with gratitude and looking forward with a very happy determined focus on behalf of these fine community schools.

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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They should write a song about this street!

Last weekend I had the distinct privilege of touring my wife’s childhood home with her mother and siblings. We learned upon arrival that the current owner is a former student of mine from my days as a school principal in suburban Fort Wayne. This happy discovery sweetened the pot of reminiscing during the 40 minute tour.

Mary Brita Robison (L) with her mom, Kathy Kearns outside Mary's childhood home

Mary Brita Robison (L) with her mom, Kathy Kearns outside Mary’s childhood home

And the memories, laughter, and occasional tears did flow for my wife, Mary, and her sister. They and their brother explored attic nooks and basement crannies. They lamented that the childhood secret path behind the garage was overgrown and no longer navigable. Mary says there were 106 school-age children living in that Southwood Park section of Fort Wayne as she grew up there. Visiting her childhood home had thrown open a treasure chest of memories and emotion.

My ‘best of tour’ experience was my wife’s explanation to our son about how she and her sister configured their tiny bedroom such that a strategically placed list, created by Mary each night at bedtime, would be the first thing she saw in the morning. The list contained Mary’s “looking forward to” items for the day ahead. I easily pictured the little girl and adolescent Mary there smiling as she awoke to reminders from her pre-bedtime self about fun, friends, and favorite things worth anticipating in the day just dawned.

What dawned on me in that moment was how Mary’s amazingly positive explanatory style—the way she explains the events of living—got its start in that tidy little house in that quintessentially American neighborhood. According to psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman’s research, the way we view the world and explain to ourselves the things that happen as we live constitute our explanatory styles. This dynamic has great power in raising up resilient youth.

My Mary’s positive, proactive personality is surely part nature and part nurture. Dr. Seligman asserts that this style of explanations to self about the world is established by our primary caregiver(s) by about age eight. On a spectrum from hopelessness to optimistic, we see our caregivers model this style, and then we practice it over and over until it becomes the very nature of us.

Dr. Seligman called it “learned optimism” in his landmark book of the same name. Every parent of young children should know about this book and the lifelong power of instilling positive and realistic styles of explaining the stuff that happens in living—and doing so with parenting intent especially during their children’s formative years.

Mary’s mom and dad raised up strong, funny, happy, resourceful, and kind people. Such great assets to this world, all of them!

And all of it from one little house on Drury Lane.

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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You can’t teach balance while sitting down…

scott1We almost never go to movies, but Sunday was our day because the forecast called for rain. Do you avoid going to the movies unless it’s raining? Do you have limitless entertainment options mapped to screens around your home but almost never partake because your family is always on the move?

Us, too.

We miss virtually every first run movie at the theater, but I contend that being very busy people and on the move are good things for us and the young people in our lives. We are teaching them about prioritizing, decision making, and elevating their capacity to go, do, and manage many interests simultaneously. We are teaching them balance.

I would have never taught any of my children to ride a bike by just telling them or showing them YouTube videos. Nope, I think virtually every kind of balance can be taught best while on the move!

We all know the negatives of sedentary lifestyles. Thankfully, our children’s activities can supercharge the extent to which we are on the move, too. (Insert the name of your kid’s travel team sport here!) But no matter what our kids are into, I find that families in well-educated communities like Zionsville tend to do more, go more, get more done, see more, experience more, and try more things than in some other communities where I have served as a school leader. I believe that the benefits of this outweigh the downsides 10,000 to 1.

Of course, imbalance and over-programming are alive and well, negative and hard for too many children and adults. But skill in choosing wisely among a multiplicity of interesting choices and discerning one’s capacity even while pushing its envelope, these are life skills we get to teach in our family and community. I am kindred with parents who insist upon ample rest and time for reflection. Our parenting role modeling of unplugged times, reading, hobbies, shared mealtimes, and other casual, communicative experiences pay big dividends for our impressionable young ones. We have learned that these also contribute to our own life balance.

Children of educated parents are more inclined than others to have broad interests and drive to achieve. But, educated or not, I have found curiosity and persistence to be characteristics common to successful people. These are also wonderfully contagious traits for the children in these families. Our busy, interesting, interested and on-the-go family ways of living are actually priceless contexts of enrichment for our kids.

My ZCS colleague Jenny Froehle says, “Curiosity and complacency are opposites!” I love that. How about we all conspire to raise up the most curious, active explorers we can?

If your family wakes up on Sunday morning with sore muscles from Saturday’s 30 mile bike ride, but your breakfast conversation turns to another afternoon of adventure, you could be teaching balance through movement.

We all taught our children “Please” and “Thank you,” and we helped them learn to be comfortable in almost any setting, right? These are life skills of the first order onto which full and wonderfully successful lives are being built right here in Zionsville. But sometimes we still worry about our busy kids.

I say stay on the move while helping our kids learn to be selective about activities that add torque to the busy spin of their lives. Successful people lean forward in life. Let’s help our children learn about this while accepting that they will stumble from time to time.

They have already seen us get back up more than once, so they know what to do!

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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Your calls and emails to legislators really matter… (Please help us keep being heard!)

Zionsville’s ace Chief Financial Officer, Mike Shafer, CPA, has a saying (in fact he has Scott Robisonmany that we often repeat around here). Mike’s saying about the funding formula for Indiana’s schools is, “Funding formula reform moves at a glacial pace.”

During most biennial budget years, Mike is exactly right. This year, thanks to his help, ZCS collaborated with several other Indiana school leaders, boards, chambers of commerce, and city/town councils to help elevate the urgency of our lowest funded school kids, and the funding formula skipped over an ice age or two.

The House budget version is a bit of good news, yes. However, it is not over until the Conference Committee* meets and decides which Indiana students receive adequate funding in the coming biennium.

As you know, our students in ZCS continue to do without some basic student program offerings expected in Indiana communities. Our kids have had to do without typical school experiences like elementary PE/health by teaching experts in this field, appropriate class sizes, Project Lead the Way and more, since 2011. While the current proposed changes will not help us restore all of these programs, it is a move in the right direction. So, let’s not stop our gentle pressure of positive advocacy. I have met with all of our legislators, and they are trying to help us. Let’s be cordial and emphatic that we do vote and that we are watching.

ZCS Voices/Emailers Needed Just a Couple More Times This Session! For anyone reading this spring break blog, ZCS needs just a little help from many people once this week or next (before April 8) and once more when I signal it just prior to the end of the legislative session in late April.

For now (before April 8, 2015), please write to the following people with your own words about the following bullet points…

CONTENT: (In your own words, please!)

  1. Please support the House version of the funding formula.
  2. Our kids deserve equitable school funding.
  3. These changes do not make our schools whole again, but they move in the right direction on funding formula reform for the first time in years. Please support the House version!
  4. I am a taxpayer and a voter. Please consider my input as you deliberate.
  5. Thank you for serving the community and Indiana.

LOCAL LEGISLATOR RECIPIENTS: (Please email or phone and leave a message)

Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) – – (317) 232-9840
Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel) – – (317) 232-9488
Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville) – – (317) 234-9054
Rep. Donna Schaibley (R-Carmel) – – (317) 232-9863

Finally, please jot a quick thanks to the architects of the House version of retooled school funding.

Please consider a message of thanks to House Ways and Means leads on school funding, Rep. Tim Brown (, Rep. Jeff Thompson (, and Rep. Todd Huston ( These legislators supported reconfiguring the formula to bring up those of us at the bottom. We know we must now engage Senators to follow suit, and to perhaps find a complete fix to our inadequate per pupil support. We need these leaders on our side during Conference Committee* in the last days of the session. Thank them, please, for carrying this ball as far as they did.

Wherever this blog post finds the people of ZCS Nation—thanks for considering being heard this week and again late in April when you are called again. Your calls and emails DO MATTER—our legislators cannot know your position unless you tell them.

Thank you.

Scott R.

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

*Oversimplified, we are in step two of a three-step funding formula lawmaking session. Step one is the House version. Step two is the Senate version (due by April 9). Step three is a small “conference committee” of leading members from both houses (if the first two versions do not jibe just perfectly—which is usually the case). We need you now—before the Senate version is etched in stone—and at least once more before the conference committee convenes to iron out the legislative houses’ differences.

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