A sturdy, soaring Eagle!

Scott RobisonI strolled around your place today and noted once again that it is buzzing with your leadership of learners and is as neat as a pin without being museum-like. What a warm and inviting place you make it there. I noted to Jayne that her GRIT bulletin board is a marker of teacher andEagle bulletin board student conversations good for all of life. Though it never shows up in a formal way in the curriculum, this is the stuff of face-to-face teacher and student interaction that is simply irreplaceable.

Yes, kids these days come up with their hands on technology early and digital footprints before they reach Kindergarten. We must certainly push ourselves to open our school walls through technologies that keep curiosities brimming and the entire information of humankind (now on the internet) at students’ ready access. But we know that information is not wisdom.  That information is not going to teach itself to our young kids who need us to guide them in learning to be safe while online and how to assess quality vs. bogus information sources while unleashing the truly awesome power of connecting with other learners and positive influencers available out there.

And then there is grit and community and creativity and acceptance of others and contributing to a team and winning or losing with class and staying with a hard problem until resolved and the ten thousand other things that great teachers teach, guide, cajole, model, tell, elicit, repeat, and love into their sometimes maddening young charges.

It was another pretty quick walk-through at your place today, but it was inviting and inspiring with every step and through the eyes of kids respecting others and their mentors/leaders/sometimes proxy parents/guides/coaches/TEACHERS.  Bravo.

Eagle ClassroomI stopped in for a minute while Scott was conferencing with some writers, and I experienced a combination of envy for that link with small humans in progress—and empathy for how tiring it is to be “on” with learners for so much of every day. I was told by a lisping, smiling five-year-old of Carol Weitholter’s exact chronological age on Carol’s 37th birthday!  I caught just a minute with Diane as she, iPad in hand, rushed off to be with a guidance group. I prescribed rest and, in fact, sleep aids for two very sick colleagues still coughing their way through as they push to serve kids and colleagues at work (no, I’m not that kind of doctor, but it didn’t stop me).  I saw some nifty one-on-one tutoring in literacy, and some way cool displays of kid work and more on the walls in halls. I heard reading and laughing and redirecting and questions and wait time as teachers carefully allowed wheels to turn in developing brains.

Thanks for all you do for the Eagle Elementary kids and community—and for your teammates there whenever they need someone to pitch in, as I hear that you are a fine “all hands on deck” team.  As it should be.

Signature LogoScott Robison, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Teaching is the cradle of all professions. Have you thanked an influential teacher or other mentor lately? Take a minute. Make the call. Send a note. It matters more than you know.

(Note: Referenced in the above post, Jayne is teacher Jayne Shubat, Scott is teacher Scott McKinley, and Diane is counselor Diane Radivan.)




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Step Right Up!

Scott RobisonYou ever been on the Midway among all of the barkers goading you to spend your money? I always like the guy who guesses age and weight. You know this guy—he makes you step on the scales after he gives you the once-over and writes a number on a piece of paper. When he gets you for a buck and is within two pounds of what you thought was a secret because you wore black, he says he’ll guess your age for double or nothin’. Whoa, Nellie.

Two minutes later he has another few bucks from you, he gives you a cursory, “Thanks for playin.”—and you are dismissed as he begins barking at his next mark.

Second graders can be like this.

A group at Pleasant View allowed me to share the stubbornness of characters in Dr. Seuss’s “ZAX” story. It is a brief tale that plays second fiddle to the title story in the old favorite, The Sneetches. Zax are obtuse characters whose behavior sparks a great talk among elementary classmates. We finished our discussion about the wisdom of getting along, and as usual I asked the kids about their reading choices, whether or not they have siblings, and other fun small talk that helps me know our schools’ bright and curious seven-year-olds (most of whom sport partially toothless smiles).

Just as our twenty-minute session was about to end, a little guy sitting near the middle blurted out, “How old are you?”

Doh! I should have just given him the accurate, if not flattering number.

Almost as though it was someone else, I heard myself say, “Well, how old do you think I am?”

Halfway through my ill-advised answer to the young man’s question with a (stupid) question, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. Here it comes.

Thoughtfully, the young man looked me over for a few seconds that seemed to last a long time.

His words were not meant to be unkind. As I watched him talk, I could imagine him in grad school describing the assigned fact situation in a contract law class.

“Um. Well. You look like* you’re about 67, but I bet you’re older.”

Other kids nodded slightly, as though to concur.

Kid stuff. Priceless. Happens here every single day.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

*I called my wife from CVS while on the way home that same evening. I asked her if she could help me buy a suitable face cream that would reduce wrinkles and rejuvenate my skin. She hung up on me, but that’s a story for another blog post.

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Wedding Crasher!

Scott RobisonBrian Urlacher was a prolific defensive menace for the Chicago Bears in the NFL, and his jersey sales were among the best in the league for many years. Bears fans of all sizes wore their Urlacher jerseys with the swagger of a three-year-old in a new Superman cape.

Isaac Antcliff was not very much north of age three when his mom, Kelly, athletic director for our middle schools, started talking up Isaac’s role as ring bearer in an upcoming family wedding. Isaac didn’t complain at all, not even when he found out he would have to walk up the aisle with his big sister. He was downright cheerful about it all. No nerves. No pre-schooler drama.

Kelly still worried that Isaac might grow nervous about the assignment when he saw so many people at the church, so she braced him for the setting. The boy remained unfazed. Weeks went by and Isaac showed no anxiety.

Grateful, Kelly could invest her nerves in the Flower Girl dress, the hair, and the shoes.

Wedding day arrived. Isaac was cheery and ready to go. As Kelly worked him into a dress shirt, he began to cry, then stomp, then exclaim, “Moooooooommmmy, I’m the Ring Bear—I’m wearing my Urlacher shirt.”

Kelly swears that the next 15 minutes seemed to take 15 years.

Ring BEAR. Priceless kid stuff. Happens around here every single day.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

Zionsville Community Schools: The road through life begins here.

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On Fixing a Broken Funding System

Scott RobisonA group of low-funded Indiana school districts has sent leaders to ZCS on several The Indiana Fix-It Coalitionoccasions since last May to collaborate. These superintendents and chief financial officers from places like Munster, Carmel, Batesville, Southwest Allen, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield, Avon, Center Grove, Porter County, and more are working with each other, their school boards, chambers of commerce, and city/town or county councils to seek legislative funding formula reform.

The Highs…The Lows!
The districts mentioned above are among the highest performing school communities in Indiana. Because of the legislated funding formula, they are also outlier-low in per pupil funding. In 2015, ZCS will receive more than $800 LESS than the state average in per pupil funding. This equals about $5 million annually (equivalent to about 80 teachers’ salaries!). Imagine what sorts of class size stabilization and program restoration could occur if we were closer to the state average in funding.

Paradoxically, this legislated system (the broken school funding formula) provides the least amount of General Fund per pupil support for the school communities whose residential taxpayers pay the most into the state’s school funding system. What’s more, the law provides just one way to reach closer to the Indiana average per pupil support for our kids—pay again.

ZCS leaders believe that districts of the first version of school choice like ours are left behind by this funding formula. Our current “pay twice or perish” system is not the right answer, and so, our coalition of Indiana low-funded schools has begun to provide legislators with three solution ideas aimed at stopping double taxation and the resulting instability in programs and services for Zionsville students. These solutions do not need to harm other school districts if handled correctly. We are promoting performance based pay for school districts and the establishment of a floor to define the lower boundary for funding formula effectiveness that will elevate more than 40 school districts with outlier low per pupil funding under the current system. Finally, our third solution is designed to share ideas to assist in the event that legislators wish to recast the entire funding structure for Indiana’s public schools.

Early this month, the Zionsville Town Council ratified the supportive resolution shown here—just like boards and commissions in places like Munster, Center Grove, and so on. This month’s local budget hearing and annual budget book* by our Chief Financial Officer Mike Shafer, CPA, includes a very fine white paper on the Indiana state school funding formula. There are many financially savvy individuals in our community who would find the facts of this story of great interest. You can find this excerpt from the broader budget work at this link.

Enough is enough. Our Zionsville students deserve adequate and equitable funding instead serial instability caused by double taxation through referendum.

*CPA Mike Shafer, a well-known statewide expert on Indiana school and municipal funding, has done very informative, annual budget books for a number of years. Much of Mike’s excellent work in this regard can be found at the FINANCE tab of our main web page—and you can see this year’s version (2015 budget book) posted at this same web address.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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Read All About It!

Happy Almost Break—and for a full week for the first time. As you solidify your plan for this time when school is paused a bit, please consider the challenge/ask noted below.

Following is a rather standard greeting I use when visiting a classroom of ZCS’s youngest students.

Superintendent Robison reading in the classroom

“Good morning, humans! I am your guest reader this morning. I’m Scott Robison. I get to work with your principal and a lot of other people in Zionsville to make sure we have great teachers like yours to help you learn and grow. I’m going to share a new book with you and then ask you a few questions about what you like to read. It really is true that leaders are readers, so I want to know what you like to read.”

Most often my self-introduction is stalled a bit by young kids who think it is funny that I call them humans. Some profess to not be human and make faces, but we move on pretty quickly.

Recent reading visits to each ZCS elementary school gave me the opportunity to have a look at this class they call “2026!” Wow, are they ever curious, funny and smart. After a fifteen minute reading and discussion of some new picture book that I donate to their classroom library, I asked each group about what they are reading and who is reading to them. The answers usually confirm what I already know about the level of parents’ education in Zionsville. (This is strongly correlated with best parenting practices for very young children, and it is one of the main reasons ours is an excellent school district.)

In each of the groups I see while making these rounds to various K-2 classrooms in ZCS, I notice a child or two with no hand raised when asked about bedtime reading with mom or dad, having a favorite book in the car, or having a favorite book and book light at bedside. The teacher always notices, too. The information is important for attention and/or supports that follow.

The power of early "reading with" experiences for young children is truly amazing.The power of early “reading with” experiences for young children is truly amazing, and I know that most parents in this community already know it, so I’ll dismount the high horse of this after asking that you shoot a photo of Fall Break travels or staycationing time in which your child is actually caught reading. Please just submit to my email (srobison@zcs.k12.in.us) with subject line “Reading Pic”—and we’ll make good use of it—and reward in two categories:

  • Most interesting* (sorry, I’ll not divulge the criteria), and
  • Apparently oldest student enjoying a read aloud story**

Thanks for keeping these young brains of our youth engaged during the school hiatus. Happy October in Indiana—or wherever you’ll be.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

*I told my PVE and Eagle read aloud buddies that my wife has several dad-daughter pictures from when we waited for roller coasters and other rides at King’s Island and Disneyworld. Paperbacks made many crowded amusement park waits go so much faster!

**My wife and I read to the two older children—and discussed increasingly complex topics—well into their high school years. I remember reading A Girl Named Zippy by Indiana author Haven Kimmel to my Abby when she was a sophomore. Short stories, poems, political opinions, famous quotes, and on and on… Of course, it ceased being about the reading, per se, but reading and learning together about interesting things is, to my mind, the best possible springboard to raising thinkers who can thrive.

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E-learning is new to us—but far from new! ZCS seeks the right balance and the skills our kids need.

Scott RobisonSchool leaders have no interest in turning ZCS into an online school district. However, our students’ abilities to learn with and through technology are a major area of responsibility for us.  As we all know, though it pains those of us who see our kids growing up so fast, ZCS is working with and for youth being educated to live and succeed in the 2020s and beyond.

Our e-learning make-up days are underway (1 of 3 now complete with new content set for release on Monday, 3/17). Some teachers are working on lesson length as per parent feedback, and flexibility is our watch word to help accommodate special circumstances and student needs.  Our teacher availability, elementary phone hotlines, and school computer lab availability will repeat for the Saturday, March 22 make-up.

Parent feedback has been appreciated on both philosophical and logistical grounds for loving and/or hating this innovation. I have shared widely about the rationale to allow teachers to introduce content and concepts before high stakes tests this spring—and to position ZCS for future real-time make-up days when weather cancellations occur.  (And our goal to prepare youth well for e-learning they will get to and need utilize throughout K-12 schooling, college, and career is a given.)

A friend who lives in another Indiana e-learning pilot school district sent me a text recently.  Her kids had a live e-learning day due to school cancellation, and she was harried and not happy.  Her fourth grader was sailing along with e-lessons, but her second grader was not, and this busy mom was spiraling down toward hatred for e-learning.

Because I know her well, I could engage in advice-giving about the “bridging kids to greater independence” aims that are part of every good school district’s work with and for families. Like so many I know right here in Z, she is a great mom who felt the need to “be” the teacher during e-learning. Upon digesting my suggestion that she guide just a bit and then step back, her kids did well and one snag that was website-based was reported to the teacher for follow-up when school reconvened.

It wasn’t like school she knew from back in the day. It was not supposed to be.  From experience, she knows that the teacher hat is often difficult to wear while simultaneously wearing the parent hat. Separating herself from the teacher role in her second-grade son’s mind was helpful. The course of things improved when she said supportive things to the child about the teacher’s efforts to provide the lesson and suggested (as a temporary guide, not as the teacher)  that her son try the activity, post questions if needed, and follow-up at school the next day if the outcome wasn’t just right.

E-learning is going to move us forward as a school district.  But it will require continued effort and collaboration. Even our youngest students will improve in self-advocacy by asking questions of their teachers when something isn’t working.  Our capacity to deliver great, relevant, appropriately sized e-learning experiences/assignments is improving, too.

Students thrive in ZCS in large part because of the relationships our professional staff members foster with them. We will not diminish this foremost human strength. Our emerging new mantra in this regard is, “Use current technologies wherever possible to aid student growth, and never mistake these tools for the power and necessity of smart, caring, connected teachers.”

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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Gracious Voices

Scott RobisonI mentioned in a message during January’s parade of school cancellation notices that I used to referee a lot of basketball around the Midwest in high schools and small or medium sized colleges.  This post is about one of the most meaningful happenings among many interesting ones across those years.

First though, a shout out to six middle and high school students who spoke to nearly 50 parents last evening in session three of our “growing up digital” series. These disarmingly smart young people made many profound utterances, not the least of which was a phrase I had not heard articulated as a digital faux pas —though I have seen it a lot. A student talked about mistakes people make with digital tools when they have “keyboard courage.” These are people who let their fingers fly when angry/emotional—and they toss civility aside while being emboldened by the relative anonymity (or at least facelessness) of email or social media. The phenomenon is obviously not unique to youth.

Early this week I got another trickle of “keyboard courageous” messages about the impact of weather related issues. This is not all that remarkable, but both anonymously emboldened folks referenced what an idiot I am for what they assumed would be the solution for snow make-up days. The particulars of these forgettable blasts of ugliness are irrelevant, especially in light of the preponderance of genuinely helpful thoughts, suggestions, and sincere questions so common in this place. The School Messenger Alert in which this blog post was referenced (2-14-2014) shared the current thinking and planning regarding make-up days.

Just as during the early onslaught of Polar Vortex I, my email and phone lit up with angry voice about why I made this decision or that—and why we wouldn’t go to school with leaking pipes and buses locked in the storm’s frozen drifts.  Honestly, it reminded me of the opposing fans who scream at basketball games. One parent chastised and threatened because of not going to school and the next admonished and threatened because snow is slippery—someone might fall.

In my twenty years as a basketball referee, I heard this same kind of equally passionate, diametrically opposed voice many times.

“It was a block, you idiot.”

“That was a charge, you [expletive].”

Soon after the early days of January, Page Two came about when I had more to share about a seemingly simple thing (school cancellation decision-making) that actually involves a lot of important nuance and responsibility.  Page Two yielded some, “Oh, I see!” responses. Some folks offered gentler criticisms and genuinely helpful questions that informed my next Page Two sharing.  The logical, supportive voice of hundreds of parents who contacted me with calm, often very funny comments (and snow pictures!) after Page Two began reminded me of this favorite of my old refereeing stories…

Situation: Two very talented basketball teams somewhere in the Virginia winter—both small college teams in their league’s annual tournament. The game was tight and the lead changed hands at least thirty times. The game was nearly over with the score tied when I called a foul that was, well, weak. But since basketball referees in that day were in complete denial and not afforded the luxury of replays, I marched to the center of the floor and “sold” the call that put the potentially winning foul shots in the hands of a star player.

My turn away from the Scorer’s bench to cross the floor seemed to take forever, and I noticed that the loud screaming so common throughout the game had quieted.  I glanced up in the middle of the home crowd and the distinguished college administrator who had greeted me before the game stood and cupped his hands over his mouth, and I knew he was about to give me what for!

Bracing myself for it (and knowing that I deserved it), the man spoke in his booming baritone.

“It’s okay, Ref.  We’re a Christian college.  We’re pretty big on forgiveness!”

The clear and brief utterance diffused the tension of the home crowd, and just about everyone in the gym laughed a lot. I smiled in humble acknowledgement of my humanness, and the home team ended up losing* in overtime.

I am certain that the emotion of my come-uppance in that public moment seared the event in my memory, but I remember it not for having messed up publicly.  I remember it for the unexpected voice of graciousness that really was delivered as a leader’s effort to bring perspective.

Fortunately, the “Page Two” explanations I offered with delay and cancellation notices in January seemed to bring out kinder, gentler ZCS voices.  There were hundreds of parents, employees, and students who just took a breath, even in the heat of emotion about carved up home and work schedules—not to mention cabin fever.  Now each time I get the anonymous post card of fact-free ugliness or the screaming voicemail about suing ZCS for, yes, “…a billion dollars…” because it was very cold last Monday and we didn’t have a delay, I am reminded of the college administrator who was big on forgiveness.  And I think of hundreds of people from ZCS who took each aspect of this winter’s Polar Vortex in stride. Parents who modeled this calm—this aplomb—taught valuable perspective to their children who were surely watching.

Daily I am reminded of the goodness of this community’s people.            SR

*The free-throw shooter missed the front-end of the one-and-one he got from my phantom foul call. The game dragged on through an overtime period when the same player hit the winning basket at the buzzer.  The home team college administrator (I believe he was the Dean) visited with my refereeing partner and me after the game as we gathered our things to travel westward.  He made just one comment about the game—that it had been a very competitive, pressure-filled atmosphere and that he was grateful for our composure throughout.  He wished us safe travels, and I never saw him again—but I will never forget his graceful leadership in the heat of that memorable moment.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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