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January 2016 AASA News

Posted on December 27, 2015

The following articles were from the top original content of 2015 from AASA.

If your not currently a member of AASA I would encourage to do so as their Executive Briefs are an excellent way to keep up on current issues in education

Ensuring school security: The good, the great and the terrifying

Ryan ClarkTuesday, October 13, 2015

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Ensuring school security: The good, the great and the terrifying

Following the recent college shootings in Oregon, Texas and Arizona, schools nationwide are rightfully investigating ways to strengthen their building security. More than ever, school safety is in the news. While many are placing the eye of scrutiny on guns, others are choosing to place it on physical accessibility.

After all, if the bad guys can’t get in, all talk of gun carrying is moot. Now, there are good ways and bad ways to go about this — there are also some dangerous ways. This article will attempt to discuss them all.

Entryways and evacuation

If a person meaning to do harm approached a school or college campus, the first line of defense is always the front, side or back door.

The importance of a locked door can never overstated. In physical access, the door is the first element of security and must be attended to. This summer, long before the recent spate of school shootings had happened, many schools took the opportunity to upgrade their security systems.

For example, in Port Huron, Michigan, schools added security measures that included changes to building entryways to help guide visitors toward the main offices, said Kate Peternel, the school district’s executive director of business services.

Similarly, schools in Marlette, Michigan, have already created secure entrances for its elementary and high schools and has already put proper access control systems in place. None of these changes were in response to any one event, they were more preventative in theory. According to Marlette Junior/Senior High School principal Kyle Wood, these projects had been carried out two years prior with bond money.

In 2015, the school district expanded a new lock-down procedure that had been adopted in 2013-14, Wood said. Based on best practices for survival during a traumatic event, the new procedure — unlike earlier versions — includes evacuation measures.

“A traditional lockdown has teachers and students lock the door and sit in the room and wait,” Wood said. The new procedure “builds on the lockdown by allowing teachers and students to make decisions based on the information they have. For example, if the threat is on one side of the building, the other side would evacuate.”

High-tech expenses

If the common-sense security expansion in Michigan can be considered good, then the measures taken by an Indiana high school may be considered great.

Southwestern High school in Shelbyville, Indiana, has been called the “safest school in America” and has been featured on the Today Show for the extra steps it has taken to avoid tragedies.

The extra steps include bulletproof doors, hallway cameras that feed directly to the local sheriff’s office, and even ceiling smoke canisters that can be detonated in hallways to visually impair an attacker or active shooter. While the steps may seem a bit excessive to some, others have called the new measures “revolutionary.”

However, one thing is certain: The changes weren’t cheap. The top-of-the-line security system was installed for $400,000 after the Indiana Sheriff’s Association selected the school as a test site. For the record, the system was funded almost entirely by Net Talon, the Virginia security company behind the design. Southwestern High School also used grant money to cover some remaining costs.

And let’s be clear: Cost is, and should be, an issue.

While schools such as the ones in the aforementioned Michigan district chose the cost-effective approach of enhancing previously existing measures, Southwestern High is an example of a school building entirely new security systems from the ground up.

According to Lindsey Burke, a Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity, the high-tech, top-of-the-line type of approach to security systems can be extremely costly. And while Southwestern was able to get funding, Burke suggests that schools look for funding locally rather than depend on federal funding or grants.

Still, Burke argues, can one really put a price of the peace of mind that school security brings?

“I don’t know if there’s anything more pressing than safety,” she said. “And we know from the data that when you interview parents, their number-one concern when they’re looking for a school, way before academics, is safety.”

Flood of security devices

For every positive step in physical access and building security, there are at least two steps backward.

Following the recent spate of college campus shootings — and in the ever-looming shadow of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre — people are understandably anxious about ensuring the safety of students, as well as teachers, staff and onsite officials.

As a result there have been a number of devices, locks and barriers invented in recent years, all with varying degrees of usefulness and legality.

According to a Washington Post article on the subject, many first-time inventors have flooded the market with new school-safety inventions. Many of the inventors are parents or teachers who are understandably scared and fearful for their lives and the lives of their children/students. The devices range from portable door locks to door barricades, from bulletproof whiteboards to bulletproof backpacks.

According to HIS, these products join a school security market that was expected to reach $720 million only a year ago, in 2014.

The article continues saying that in Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania, a school maintenance man invented an emergency door lock. Students at Banneker High School in Washington, D.C., won a grant to develop a sleeve that jams a door’s hydraulic closer.

A group of teachers in Muscatine, Iowa, formed Fighting Chance Solutions to sell something similar. A company in Burlington, Vermont, released its Social Sentinel app to scour social media for signs of a school threat. And a father in Williamston, Michigan, created The Boot, a steel bar that blockades a classroom door.

Many of these new inventions, while well intentioned, are simply impractical. Meanwhile, others on the list may be illegal. There aren’t many ways to support a technology that, while protecting students from a possible school shooting, could turn a classroom into a fire trap.

To be clear, any device that blocks students’ ability to safely evacuate a classroom should be looked into closely. The chance and risk of something going wrong may be too great.

In the end, whether good, bad or ugly, school security as a concept happens to be on the minds of anyone who can turn on a television and watch current events. That being the case, there will always be new and innovative attempts at securing school buildings.

Whether the attempts turn out productive depends on which path the school district or officials choose.

Testing overkill? Students, districts push back against high‑stakes assessment

Cait HarrisonFriday, May 29, 2015

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Testing overkill? Students, districts push back against high‑stakes assessments

As testing season draws to a close, a whole new crop of issues is just bubbling up.

A few weeks ago, all 280 juniors at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle chose not to take a Common Core-aligned standardized test because they didn’t think it accurately measured their skills.

Even though those students won’t receive any credit for the test, known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, most of them don’t need it to graduate, according to Seattle Public Schools. That district is one of many taking a stance in a growing movement against high-stakes testing.

Just last year, the school board in Lee County, Florida, voted to eliminated the state and national education assessment tests. Even though the vote was reversed the next day, it has stirred up a “very potent movement,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a national organization that advocates for test reform.

And earlier this month, the Illinois House approved a bill that would allow students to opt out of state assessment tests with written permission from a parent or guardian. Chicago Public Schools initially tried to nix giving new Common Core-based standardized tests this year, a decision the district reversed after the Illinois State Board of Education threatened to withhold funding.

So why are these tests leading to such an uprising? Schaeffer calls the movement is a response to “testing overkill” from students, teachers, administrators and community leaders.

“Across the country, school districts are taking stances against testing misuse and overuse, calling for fewer tests and less consequences attached to them,” he said.

The boycotts also stem from student and parent anxiety about new, more rigorous tests — many of which are aligned with Common Core — said Kelly Pollitt, associate executive director of policy, public affairs and special projects for the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

“Anytime you have something that’s new and different, people get a little worried,” she said. “It just happens that the new standards and assessments are happening on a much bigger scale than they ever have.”

State-mandated standardized tests date back to No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which requires annual state assessments primarily to ensure a good education for disadvantaged and minority children. The original goal was to ensure students were hitting a proficiency bar.

Other purposes of the tests have included evaluating teachers and even determining whether a student graduates or gets promoted to the next grade level.

“In the current situation, when one big test has so much attached to it, it results in dumbing down teaching and learning,” Schaeffer said, referring to the phenomenon of “teaching to the tests” taking precedence over a focus on general instruction. He believes the tests should count as only one factor for measuring student achievement.

In the meantime, it may not be as simple as just opting out in some districts — as they are not letting students do so, despite pushback from parents and advocacy groups, Pollitt said. She noted that federal law requires 95 percent of students in districts must participate in assessments.

“Otherwise, it just creates a mess for states and districts measuring student progress and accountability systems,” she said. “When you opt out of assessments, it’s really a disservice to the students.”

Districts across the nation are addressing the issues in different ways, including community meetings to educate parents to clear up any misunderstanding of the assessments and their purpose, Pollitt said.

However, a bipartisan rewrite of the NCLB law could change up the testing landscape. The bill, which is likely to be passed soon in the Senate, would remove some of the “high stakes” in testing by eliminating all federal required consequences for standardized tests — which FairTest supports, Schaeffer said.

“We want better forms of assessment,” he said. “Tests that would look at not how well kids fill in bubbles, but the work they do over time.”

Why can’t we all just get along?

Catherine IsteThursday, July 16, 2015

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Why can’t we all just get along?

We are adults. We are professionals, and we spend most of our waking hours at work. Why is it so hard to just get along? Because we are adults, professionals and spend so much of our time at work.

How do we lead through these inherent challenges to accomplish our goals in a positive way? Try some perspective. Here are three reasons why we can’t all get along — and how to get passed it.

Adults

In the 1994 film “The Ref,” Denis Leary argues the group can open presents even though it is not the usual time because “we’re adults and we can open the presents whenever we want!” There is an element of this in everything we do at work.

On the acceptable side of the spectrum, “being adults” is what helps us decide when to take breaks, start new projects and basically get things done throughout the day and week without having to have someone stand over us and tell us every few minutes what to do next.

On the other end of the spectrum are micromanagers and the people who need lots of structure. While it may seem negative, they have found a way to work within the organization, and if you start messing with their system, it can be seen as disrespectful and destructive.

Take note of the variety of needs for independent decision-making, and it will make it easier to understand why some work styles inherently conflict.

Professionals

Because we are professionals, we want to do things right. Even nonstar performers have some level of desire to avoid punishment and poor performance reviews. Even they have a modicum of professional self-respect that drives them to produce a minimum standard.

We all have our tolerance level. So when someone else messes with our standard, interferes with the way we do things or in some way criticizes our approach, it is going to be annoying.

When trying to address this type of issue, remember to consider all sides. Acknowledging a deviation in approach can go a long way in helping someone understand the change is not about them, but it does need to happen.

Too much work

We all have a breaking point, and it can change based on factors in and out of work. There is no work-life balance — we only have so many hours in the day, and it is extremely difficult to divide those neatly between our personal and professional lives.

Further, we are not always good at recognizing when we are burning out. The signs are often clearer to others than they are to ourselves. And giving feedback to someone that he/she may need a break is not always easy to do.

Yet, as leaders, we need to ensure our staff is rested, focused and productive. It is incumbent upon us to know our team and understand the signs of burnout — and address them before it is too late. This can be on an individual basis or as a group — in which case a day off or bagels and donuts could help, respectively.

Knowing your own limits and leading by example will also go a long way to help underscore the importance when you do encourage your team members to take a break.

So take a minute, realize we are all in this together and apply a little perspective to your approach.

 

What’s keeping administrative license holders from becoming school leaders?

Dr. Sheri WilliamsTuesday, August 04, 2015

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What’s keeping administrative license holders from becoming school leaders?

Reports of the shortage of applicants for school leadership positions are well-known. The authors of “Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover” say a quarter of the country’s principals will leave their schools each year, and nearly 50 percent will leave in the third year.

Missing from the reports is an analysis of why individuals who already hold an administrative license are not applying for vacant principal positions. In New Mexico, where turnover rates are among the highest, executive sources say there may be as many as 200 or more licensed administrators in the pipeline who have never applied for openings.

Why aren’t license holders stepping up to school leadership? We know that prospective candidates took the steps to prepare for and earn a license — but we don’t know much about the deeper issues that may be keeping them from joining the administrative ranks.

We need to do a better job of listening to the license holders. Surveys and focus groups are a good place to start. Armed with direct accounts of the license holders, districts and states can be better equipped to address concerns and reignite the passion that first drew the candidates to school leadership.

Some license holders may simply need a little guidance through the process of applying for and securing a principal position. District leaders can help by matching prospective candidates with veteran principals who can coach them along the way. Veteran principals can address candidates’ questions and guide them through the steps needed to land the first position.

Others may need a safe and supportive place to discuss their reasons for delaying entry into principalship. Evidence from Great Principals at Scale suggests districts and states must continue to invest in candidates beyond their preparation programs. The investment need not be cost-prohibitive.

One low-cost option is to provide a place and space for license holders to network. Informal networking can address the sense of isolation that is often felt by students at the end of their formal preparation programs.

Support networks provide potential candidates with the opportunity to swap information and resources that will leverage their strengths and professional capital. Networking can be a powerful way to help license holders revive their interest in principalship and tap back into their desire to make an impact on student learning.

When license holders need more than guidance and informal networking support, it’s time to step up the game and expand the support team. Districts, colleges and departments of education each have a role in providing ongoing professional development for license holders who may lack confidence in their readiness to lead.

Prospective candidates may need a refresher on developing shared leadership teams or leading learning communities. They can be invited to attend in-service activities and meetings with sitting principals who know how to delegate administrative tasks, deal with heightened accountability pressures and time demands, and provide for supervision, school safety, and the span of duties of the principalship.

License holders also need to take responsibility for their own professional development. They can be encouraged to seek out new target experiences that will propel them into school leadership, such as spearheading a project that supports student well-being, assuming a leadership role with professional learning communities, making presentations at staff and community meetings, participating on interview teams, and serving on district-level committees in curriculum, budget and assessment.

Evidence from a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education suggests the need to make the principal role more attractive to potential candidates. The lack of attractiveness to the job is underscored in media reports of the overwhelming nature of the job.

Educators need to challenge the media’s assertion. As a seasoned principal, I suggest that questions about whether the principal’s job is doable generally boil down to the candidate’s competence and confidence to do the job.

All of these experiences will go a long way in improving license holders’ confidence to apply for and bring their talents to bear on the challenges of school leadership. The nation’s schools are waiting for license holders to step up to the leadership role and fulfill their promise to make a difference in the lives of children.