Fourth grade teacher Mary Robison’s blog post to her classroom families

Mary RobisonI was 10 years old during the Blizzard of ’78 in Ft. Wayne.  My grandfather was a pharmacist and owned Kearns Drugs, and I remember all of us being holed up at home so long that he went out on a snowmobile to deliver people’s prescriptions to them!  We all began trading groceries with neighbors after days and days because some folks still had eggs, but had run out of bread or whatever.  Our mother had thought ahead and purchased powdered milk.  I cannot describe it to you.  Warm, too bubbly on top, thick…none of us have forgiven her for that one yet!  I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, and we were the small family with four kids.  The Mattinglys had 14!  The Sauls had 11.  There were 109 kids on our block! It was a blast for us kids, spilling outdoors to play in the snow all day long.  I’m sure the parents disagreed about how “fun” it was!  Anyway, those memories of falling victim to Mother Nature are seared in my memory.

I know that this month has been atypical, even for Indiana.  The kids can’t really play outside if the wind chill is -20.  Lesson plans keep getting pushed back.  The novelty of it is wearing off.  But I live with Zionsville’s superintendent, and I wanted to share a few things you may not know.  Superintendents want us to be in school!  They have so, so many things to take into account to ensure our kids’ safety, though.  It’s never JUST the snow that’s the concern.  It’s never JUST the dark or the drifting or the ice or the snow blowing and covering the ice or the wind chill or the bus fleet or the country roads or the visibility or the possibility of popping sprinkler systems/water pipes in schools.  It’s a complex combination of those elements and more that affect each weather-related decision and it is never easy.

It’s a little less frustrating for me to have us delay or close, because I live with the weight of it here.  I hear Scott up at 4:00am.  I hear the phone buzz at all hours from his “Morning Eyes” crew warning of this or that.  Our dinners are routinely interrupted by phone calls/texts/emails about what’s coming or not coming from the air or the sky and how superintendents from Hamilton, Boone, and other counties are going to call it based on their busses, their geography (which does vary wildly), and the way the weather hits each place.  It takes multiple hours and Dr. Keen is a part of it all.  He’s doing all the same things.  I share this because I know a few of you may feel frustrated or concerned with the amount of time we’re missing.  Know that the superintendents are working on how these days will be made up.  Please don’t assume all our missed days will be tacked on to the end of this year.  They are considering options and time will tell how that works out.

Hang in there.  The sun will warm us again someday!  Nothing is forever.  And the memories I have from the Blizzard of ’78 are close to my heart.  The pictures of my brothers, sisters, and me standing in our snowsuits next to a mountain of snow by our driveway make me laugh.  The image of my handsome Paw-Paw zooming by on a snowmobile with a satchel of medications for folks brings tears to my eyes.  There’s good in all of this, I promise.  In the meantime, use the extra time together to snuggle up with a stack of good books, sip hot chocolate, and create memories the kids won’t forget with that gift of time you’ve been given.  All too soon, our houses will be immaculate and quiet and empty, and we’ll wish for a few close hours at home together.

Fifty-four days left til spring.  We can make it!

Mary Robison

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Winter challenges, apologies and clean-up

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1/27/14, 3 pm: Addendum to blog post placed here on Monday afternoon, 1-27-2014.  Following is a message from the Outreach Coordinator serving our region for the Indiana Department of Education. In brief response to specifics about make-up days, we have seven (7) add-on days available to us between the adopted calendar’s last student day (May 28) and the Friday before Commencement (June 6). At present I believe we will get two waiver days as a result of Department of Education action (if true, this would push our last day to Monday, June 2). Beyond this, I will not know until after the February 5, 2014 State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting as noted below.

Good afternoon,

I know that many of you are very concerned about the number of days that your students have missed due to weather and about the quickly approaching ISTEP timeline.  I was told today that the issue of ISTEP testing window will be addressed at the February 5 SBOE meeting. Please know that the superintendent is aware of the concern of making up days. Options are being reviewed and we will receive information as soon as a decision has been made.

Dianne McKinley
Outreach Coordinator-Region 5
Indiana Department of Education

The last few snowy and frigid weeks have been a blur, even for those of us accustomed to not getting much sleep in the winter.  As the powder flies for yet another snow event , I am compelled to do a bit of house cleaning, some of it just necessary (known apologies* and ode to a careening calendar), and some as promised (my next blog post about what came to mind on Thursday of Snow-pocalypse 2014).

Parents and others who weighed in during the calendar making** process in the fall of 2011, indicated firm preference for firmly protecting scheduled days around the established national winter holidays (Dr. King’s birthday and Presidents’ Day). The rationale included: 1) This community makes plans for long weekends, and the schools should not renege upon these (“Even if ZCS calls them ‘flex’ days, we’re going to use them and our children will not attend!”), and 2) The weeks between early January and Spring Break are widely known as “the winter doldrums” in Indiana. Days off*** (though we’ve had them clustered together of late) are salve to the long gray grind so common here.

So, the often contentious but collaborative calendar building we have done here put make-up days at the end of the school year. This was by design. (Please, please don’t allow this to renew the hate mail I get because someone’s Aunt Jilly’s lake cottage is available for free in early June or late August.) In honor of this calendar making process, I do not plan to unilaterally take away the non-student days slated for February 17 and 18, 2014, and yet, I disclaim this emphasis with an “All Hail, Mother Nature” because her 2014 Ego Strut may yet be of enough power to change my mind, though it is not likely.

I challenge someone to choreograph and perform a “Don’t Snow Dance” and we will post it on our YouTube page. Remember to wear Eagles green!

Happy Winter 2014…

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

*The known apologies:

1. I have offered a direct message to the parent who called out our lack of readiness for BAC/UP child care services at Pleasant View on Wednesday morning of the first Polar Vortex week (January 6-10). In a nutshell, the critical candor sparked an after action review, and I do believe we should have reordered our snow clearing effort on Tuesday of that week. I sincerely apologize to GROW Access families because I just did not anticipate the magnitude of the clearing effort on that day, and it resulted in a one day delay that inconvenienced you.  I sincerely apologize. It was a judgment call that day that I missed.

2. We have some experience with a “route spacing” protocol when snow bursts in late afternoon of school days threaten to trap second route students (elementaries) at school because of middle school route lateness (this regards the “going home/afternoon” routes). If the first route is too delayed, it could push us (in winter) to have to transport our little guys and girls home in the dark. If we know about the need for this early enough, we can message it to parents as “TEN-MINUTE EARLY RELEASE FOR JUST BUS RIDERS” such that parents do not scramble from whatever they are doing to pick up kids at school or be home for them earlier. In most cases, we find that conditions really do not put bus riders home earlier, but that little extra “getting to the route” time helps our drivers complete the elementary routes before dark.

Armed with that background, note that a snow burst quite close to day’s end on Thursday, January 16 sparked the decision to do a bus rider only ten-minute early dismissal for route spacing. An internal messaging flaw for which I take full responsibility resulted in a slightly (a few minutes) early general release at the middle level.  A few parents were confused and angry about not getting a phone or text alert, and they let us know about it.  Fortunately, everyone was still on campus and safe, but I know what caused the issue and have already changed the plan for internal messaging.  In the event of slightly early BUS ONLY dismissal in which the supervision chain for students is not relinquished, I/we will message to parents only if we have the luxury of time and chiefly because a few students at the beginning of each MS bus route may be a wee bit early arriving at home on such days. Apologies for not having clarified this “route spacing” phenomenon in  school arrival and dismissal communications.

**Calendar creation in most school districts is tied for second as a “most contentious” activity. Number one is any process related to referendum, and the tie for second is redistricting. Perhaps you already suspected as much.

***You may be surprised to know that a study of 15 consecutive school years in prep for calendar committee work a few years ago yielded that ZCS cancels school an average of only 1.4 days per year!

****Folks with eyes for detail will note that there is no fourth asterisk. You are here because you have persisted with a very long blog post.  For your reward, I would ask that you call or email someone (yes, both calling and emailing are old school, but use one of these anyway) to let them know that they have made a difference in your child’s life—or in the life of some child you know. When you’re done, you’ll be glad you did it.  Thanks.  And thanks for choosing the Zionsville Community Schools.

*****Speaking of “old school”—yeah, I know, there isn’t a fifth asterisk either. Current or former English teachers, please stand down on the flying asterisks (and other, overly casual toned issues with this blog). I was just thinking about the thousands of newsletters (paper, of course) that I sent about during a dozen years as a school principal. In the interest of full disclosure, I now admit that I once devised an early (analog—as in, on paper) “open rate” analysis of my Friday school newsletter by asking that parents send a message to their children or teachers from work via facsimile.  I dubbed it “The Fax Phenomenon”—and fully 608 of 648 students’ families sent funny and warm greetings to the school the next week.  (DO NOT DO THIS…. PALEEEESE!)  This was before I learned about the necessity to be as lean as we are in ZCS.  I burned up about six-months of our toner allowance in about six hours. I have never known any of my newsletter gimmicks or buried messages to pay-off so sweetly—and cost so much at the same time! (Belated apologies to the CFO of the Pike Township Schools, circa 1995!)

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Staying Safe – The ever-present priority

scott1December 14th marked one-year since the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I do not know any parent or school employee who does not feel a sick helplessness about the young lives claimed on that day. Inestimable are the lifelong impacts upon surviving family members, friends, and colleagues in the wake of nearly 30 lives cut short in just a few minutes.

Ripple effects from that tragedy are far from over, and they have reached Indiana—and Zionsville. You may recall that our front door lockdowns during all school hours started in December of 2012.  You may have heard about our heightened partnership with the Town to increase the already fine attention paid to our schools by ZPD. Thanks to the good work of ZCS’ Jim Uland and his collaborators we were awarded the first year of a safety grant from the State of Indiana (the state grant program was an Indiana legislative response to Sandy Hook, too).

School safety has not been taken lightly in most schools since Columbine or Paducah, but Sandy Hook pushed the needle in many important ways around the nation regarding school security personnel, prudent front door practices, emergency preparedness training for staff and students, and more.

During the second semester of this school year, ZCS will continue with staff training and ramp up student training on the ALICE emergency protocol.  During the December Board of Trustees meeting, ZCS safety lead Jim Uland reiterated the specifics of the ALICE acronym (noted below) and previewed our planned rollout of procedures, meetings, and trainings to occur in 2014.

ALICE is recommended by all Boone County law enforcement leaders, endorsed by Homeland Security, trained into our school safety leaders in each of the buildings, and adopted by our Board of School Trustees.

ABOUT  A.L.I.C.E.   Very briefly stated, this is a safety philosophy and action plan that seeks to give all school employees information during an intruder situation so that individual supervisors of students can decide on the best approach to save lives: sheltering in place, fleeing when safe to do so, and as a last resort, distracting or otherwise deterring the intruder in effort to save lives. The acronym stands for:

ALICE

In early 2014 we will host meetings for parents who wish to learn more about the ALICE safety plan, the philosophy, the practice, training, and other specifics.  We will have our law enforcement partners with us and offer a Q and A period.

Surveillance equipment (some seen and some not seen), police partnerships and presence, entry management, and training/practice—these are some of the ways that we pay close attention to keeping students, staff, and visitors to our schools as safe as we possibly can.

Speaking of safety, I know that many ZCS families and employees travel during the Christmas-New Year’s timeframe.  I wish you the best of whatever your plans entail—including safe passage to and from your destination, even if you’re just moving around our local winter wonderland.

All the best.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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ZCS Update – Monday, 10-28-2013

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Running Eagles

The hard-working and fast running Eagles of ZCHS Cross Country have qualified for the state championship this coming weekend in Terre Haute. This is the fourth state tourney appearance for the ZCHS Cross Country boys—and the first-ever appearance by the girls’ team. Coaches Gabe Porras (boys) and Suzanne Rigg (girls) have led campaigns well based upon these student athletes’ consistent commitment to running and training year-round. Please send a strong Eagle cheer of support this week for these state level competitors as they set about to represent our schools and community with their usual grit, class, and grace in Saturday’s Indiana State Cross Country Championship.

Some Other Matters that Matter, Too…

  1. ZCHS’ Andrew Bowling scored a PERFECT score on the ACT test.  Wow.
  2. Eagle Elementary fourth-grader Ashley Kolman created the art for a very important calendar of national reach. The 2014 Cyber Security Calendar for the National Cyber Security Alliance (StaySafe.org) has Ashley’s artwork on the September 2014 page.  Salute!
  3. If you missed the e-Nexus late last week, check out the brief ZCS video at: Video: The Road Through Life Begins Here .  (Production credit to the Central Indiana Educational Services Center who sponsored the effort.)
  4. ZCHS’ Megan Hallam won the Overall Best Poster for the IFLTA (Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association) Poster Contest.  The theme of the state conference and the poster this year was “Fuel Their Future with Languages”.  Twenty-five schools were represented with seventy-five total entries.  Megan will receive $75 for first place in her division and $100 for her best overall award.
  5. The ZCHS math team took home the first place trophy at the annual Huntington University Math Competition.  Jesse Fenton, Nick Perkins, Kyle Schulte and Baizhen Zhu dominated the competition, and Perkins scored 2nd place overall in the individual competition.

There, that’s a half-dozen really great things happening for, because of, and with our outstanding ZCS youth. I apologize in advance for the great many other noteworthy accomplishments I inadvertently left unlisted here. Classroom level victories of large and small measure come every day for thousands of our students. As with the successes noted above, ZCS teachers, counselors, principals, and parents are commended for helping highlight and celebrate these victories while encouraging even more hard work and focus toward excellence. When students engage with our schools’ core mission of academic, physical, and pro-social growth and fitness, they build well for tomorrow.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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Some Good News About Some Good News…

There is so much news these days of federal government gridlock and nefarious types scott11doing bad things all over the planet. In wonderfully stark contrast, I was ecstatic to see the Zionsville Times-Sentinel article about Dr. Scott Phillips—a truly great, servant leader American right here in our midst (October 9, 2013). In fact, I contend that it is the “Scott Phillips Factor” in this community and in this country making Zionsville great and the U.S.A. exceptional among nations.

The Dr. Phillips article was a timely front page uplift about the fact that good people are here, are engaged, and are integral to what is working—what role models really look like and what they do.  Dr. Phillips has been a valuable resource for our nation in the ways nicely covered in the excellent 10-9 article (URL offered below).  Additionally, I have seen his compassion, resourcefulness, and deep commitment to country and community through my own lenses as a father and as a positional leader in this community.

When our son, Ben, was enduring various medical procedures and surgeries, Dr. and Mrs. Phillips heard that Ben was interested in NASA spacecraft. Though I had never met Dr. Phillips, he brought back souvenirs for Ben from various NASA rescue flights and other tours of duty. Our son was uplifted tremendously by these kind and generous gestures. Years later, just after the horrific school shootings in Connecticut, Dr. Phillips visited me with a mountain of research and helpful suggestions about enhancing school safety in ZCS. In between these helpful interactions with Dr. Phillips, he volunteered as a security presence at public meetings because an individual had been threatening to school officials.

I have had up-close vantage points from which to watch many other servant leaders in Zionsville who do what they do for the greater good without expectation of ego stroking and notoriety. To me, this Phillips-like phenomenon is the mark of true role models for our youth to see and learn more about, and the T-S article expertly written by Andrea McCann told an essentially American success story important in explaining exactly why Zionsville is a wonderful place to live and bring up children.

Finally, the Dr. Phillips profile transcends trite calls for more good news. The Scott Phillips story is interesting and it is human, but it is much more than merely a “human interest” piece. The story of Dr. Scott Phillips is important news because he is good, does good, models good, and thereby teaches a valuable, newsworthy lesson that defines “extraordinary” in the discipline to learn, accomplish, train—and then to serve!  Zionsville is blessed with many Scott Phillips-like people.  Because of their unassuming heroism, they are mostly known (as was Dr. Phillips prior to the 10-9 article) as Lauren’s dad—as someone’s neighbor.

Click on or paste in to see the 10-9-13 news article about Dr., Lt. Col., Dad, Deputy, Scott Phillips:

http://timessentinel.com/features/x862178436/Local-doctor-supports-NASAs-past-and-future

Scott Robison, Superintendent
Zionsville Community Schools

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A Postcard from our Children’s Future

scott11I think it would be great to get a post card (today) from any of my three children’s future. (I see this coming out of some Star Trek device unknowingly imbedded in my eyelid or something, but I digress!) The post card could help me see if my past and present day investments in my kids are the right ones.

As an older dad than most ZCS parents, I have children in early adulthood (two girls) and international_fairone still in the K-12 setting (our “caboose” baby—a boy). I have been cheerleading for many, many years in my work with and for everyone’s children about the life-enhancing, horizon broadening effects of international travel. Since coming to ZCS in 2006, this topic has come up in dozens of coffee talks and other meetings. A number of kindred spirit parents have shown great interest in the important learnings of international experiences for their children. Some have the wherewithal to give their children actual “being there” educational travel opportunities in Europe, Asia, South America, etc.

It is never too early to be future focusing about international exposure (awareness and remote links) and experience (being there, seeing there, studying there, serving there). A great many of our biggest instructional aims in ZCS relate to helping the evolving graduate-to-be understand our world and have facility to consider historical, geographical, cultural, economic, sociological and other aspects of nations and their peoples. Growing to navigate well their academic, life, and work realms is aided greatly by international experience and perspective.

Of course, not all families have the wherewithal to travel internationally, and ZCS cannot fund these opportunities. However, study trip scholarship programs and group travel opportunities can reduce the cost of these experiences. International service trips are more common in this area than you might know. And no matter what the type of trip it is, “life-changing” is the most uttered description that young people give when discussing their travels abroad.

Thankfully, through our older kids’ scholarly achievements, a unique work opportunity for the younger of them, and one much anticipated (long saved-up-for) European trip, all of our children have experienced the “being there” gains in knowledge and perspective that accompany international travel. It is no big secret that I wish for safe and perspective-enhancing international exposure and/or experience for every ZCS graduate.

If there could be a post card from any of the Robison kids’ future, I would gladly pay the postage due just to confirm what I have seen time and again in others’ children—and now in my own. The world language immersion and non-North American cultural assimilation resulting from well-planned and safe international exposures and experiences change young lives for the better.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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Good people…

“Good people are all over this place!”scott11

School is starting soon, and the summer-long prep, hiring, cleaning, and so much more are in full swing as of this writing. In our team’s efforts to be ready in spite of so much to do, I am struck by the positive people all around, on school staff and in homes entrusting their children to our teaching and care. Recently I have had interactions with people connected in various ways with the Zionsville Community Schools and the Town of Zionsville, and it led me back to a statement I put at the bottom of my email messages one day last spring.

 “Good people are good for people!”

This rather obvious truism was born when I was engaged in a phone conversation with a ZCS dad who volunteers tirelessly in and around our community, his church, and wherever else he can pitch in. I admire this guy’s commitment to the development of our youth’s senses for things bigger than themselves—for service. At the end of our conversation, I blurted out this statement about good people, and he and I thought nothing of it as we ended our call.  But there was something about the Yogi Berra-esque (see Wikipedia if you don’t know) nature of the utterance that did register with me.

Minutes later, an old friend and school board member from the South Bend Archdiocese called. Months before, I had put her in touch with Missy Stringham (ZWMS) for technical assistance as ALEKs math was being considered for implementation there. The South Bend official was calling to sing the praises of Missy’s excellent advice and generous sharing. Again, the quote popped into my head and for the first time, I scribbled it down on my deskpad.

 “Good people are good for people!”

About an hour later, I was in one of our middle schools for a meeting when I ran into a couple of seventh graders each with a cast on one leg. They were alone in the hallway before the bell (allowed a head start on the traffic of passing period). I do not recall the exact words of our exchange, but their banter, positive attitudes, and help for one another, even while slowed by injury, made me think of the email tag line again, but differently, so I changed it by adding, “especially for the young ones.”

I had exited the three minute exchange with those funny kids unexpectedly renewed as to why I got in this line of work in the first place.

” Good people are good for people, especially the young ones.”

Now, a maven of semantics could assert that the stuff after the comma is confusing in that it could relate to the good people who are especially good for the young people—and it could also mean that good people who are young and good are good for people young and old!

And to this I would answer, “Yes, that’s right.”

Scott Robison, Superintendent

Zionsville Community Schools

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