Superintendent's Blog (click on topic heading to comment)

Our Students Can't Wait

As the 2014 General Assembly begins its work in Frankfort, I want to raise your awareness of a critical issue facing our legislators:  new school funds to match the higher expectations for our students and our educators. 

The students and staff of Simpson County Schools have undergone significant challenges in recent years, primarily new federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind law, the subsequent waiver, and transition to the new state assessment system required by Senate Bill 1.  These changes have introduced greater academic rigor in teaching and learning.  And our students and teachers have responded with test results lifting Kentucky up on several national scholastic yardsticks.

But the reality is that these activities have occurred during a period of reduced financial support from Frankfort and Washington, D.C.  Mandates have grown, but money for training and salaries, textbooks and computers, aid to struggling students and tools to make our schools safer has declined.

I invite our community to help send our state leaders a simple message:  Our students can’t wait.

Our students have one chance to obtain a quality education.  Many elementary students have never seen a new textbook funded by the state, which leaves them with old books along with aging computers, software, and other worn instructional materials.  The future of our students and the Commonwealth depends on a well-educated population, and that requires a well-funded public education system.

Please join me and contact Senator David Givens and Representative Wilson Stone thanking them for all they do, and most importantly, urging them to make a commitment to find the necessary funding to keep our students moving forward to the future every child deserves.  You can leave a message for both your Senator and Representative at (800) 372-7181.

Sincerely,

Jim Flynn, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Simpson County Schools

270-586-8877

james.flynn@simpson.kyschools.us

Follow me on twitter: @jflynnfswildcat

Kids Matter Most!

VISION: To be a world-class educational system empowering all students to graduate LIFE-READY - academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers!

MISSION:  To develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!

A Community Gets The Schools It Wants - Let's Celebrate!

A Community Gets the Schools It Wants – Thank you to the Franklin-Simpson Community

A wise man once said, “A community gets the schools it wants.”  I have found this to be true.  Here in Simpson County, the expectations, interest, and support of our parents and the community make a huge difference in the quality of our schools!

Because of this, it is important for the Franklin-Simpson Community to share in celebrating the success of our school district in the most recent reporting of the Unbridled Learning accountability results!  Franklin-Simpson High School earned a distinguished rating and is ranked #1 in our region and 12th overall in the entire state among all Kentucky high schools!  Franklin-Simpson Middle School achieved a Proficient rating and showed excellent progress!  Though our elementary schools received Needs Improvement ratings, we’re confident they are on the right path to excellence.  Overall, Simpson County Schools achieved a Proficient Rating in the state accountability system, scoring in the 86th percentile.  This places our school system in the upper echelon of the region and state!

I am proud of our students, teachers, support staff, principals, central office, and board team for making the commitment and doing the hard work in achieving these results.  It is evident that the contributions of our parents and community have made a significant difference too.  There have been so many individuals, groups, and organizations from our community who have contributed to these results – THANK YOU to the entire Franklin-Simpson Community! 

The community’s contributions occur in many forms and fashions.  The investment in education demonstrated by leaders from the Franklin City Commission, Simpson County Fiscal Court, Franklin-Simpson Industrial Authority, Kentucky Downs, and Franklin Bank and Trust in forming a scholarship fund to provide tuition-free dual credit college courses for high school students through our On-Track partnership with Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College is one vivid example of this community’s commitment to a world-class education for our kids.  In another example, the Franklin-Simpson Educational Excellence Foundation and the Rotary Club of Franklin have been instrumental in bringing a global perspective to our schools and community through their support of our Chinese Program and The Beasley House: The Center for Community and International Education.  There are many other examples I could share, and all are making a significant difference in the lives of our students at all levels throughout our school system!

As we continue the pursuit of our vision to provide a world-class educational system that empowers every student to graduate life ready – academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers--, it is essential that we continue to receive the interest, support, and expectation for excellence from our community!  Thank you again for your support that contributed to outstanding overall results on the latest state assessment and accountability results!  Remember, investing in our youth is an investment in our future – and our children are worth our commitment, time and resources!

Being a Connected Educator

 The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky is highlighting educators from across Kentucky to celebrate Connected Educator Month.  I was privileged to be invited to share!  See more posts at the following website:

 

http://transformingedky.blogspot.com/2013/10/kentucky-connected-educator-month-day-14.html

In what ways are you a connected educator?

A wise person advised me long ago that in education, it’s the people, not the programs that make a school…  That advice is deeply ingrained into my leadership vision and work to get our staff, students, parents, and community engaged in advancing the vision and mission of the school system.  Our vision in Simpson County schools is to be a world-class educational system empowering all students to graduate LIFE-READY - academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers! Our mission is to develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!  Our mission is driven by five fundamental guiding questions:
How do we develop positive, professional relationships with our students, their families, and one another?

  • How do we ensure all students are taught the standards and skills needed to be college and/or career ready in the 21st Century?
  • How do we measure the progress of our students to these standards and skills?
  • How do we provide interventions for students who are struggling to achieve our learning goals?
  • How do we enrich and stretch the learning of our students who are meeting or exceeding our learning goals?

In our school system, I have worked hard with our team to create systems, structures, and logistics to bring folks together to learn, collaborate, and work on the guiding questions of our mission.  In addition to our 4 professional development days, we have 4.5 learning community days spread throughout our school year which provides time for professional learning community (PLC) work; follow-up training; vertical teaming and collaboration; and time for other school or district initiatives.  Additionally, our schools are creative with their use of time to create other opportunities for staff collaboration and development.  For example, while the staff works in PLCs from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM, the Central Office team will come to a school to help with supervision and a school-wide assembly.  Time is a precious asset and we harness it for collaboration and connectedness among our students and staff!

Technology has become an important tool that allows our folks to connect and grow!  All of our unit plans and pacing guides are posted on our website.  Our teachers are leveraging CIITS (an online platform for curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development) for classroom and common assessments, units and lesson resources, along with many other resources including PD360.  The PD360 has been instrumental in our LDC/MDC (literacy and math) work for example.  We’ve been able to set up PD Groups to learn and share through this amazing resource.  Also, we use GoogleDoc walkthrough forms that are tailored to specific initiatives and help us provide immediate feedback to our staff as progress checks.  For example, we have “chunked” the learning on the Professional Grwoth and Effectiveness System (PGES) framework with our teachers and then use GoogleDoc walkthroughs aligned to the part of the framework being studied to give our teachers specific feedback.  It’s been a powerful model for rolling out the PGES framework!

I have worked with our principals and teachers to expand on-line learning resources as well.  We have leveraged on-line learning courseware and programming to help students at all levels in our school system to support both struggling students, as well as those who are meeting or exceeding our learning goals.  Programs like Odysseyware, Achieve 3000, Read 180/System 44, Carnegie Learning/Cognitive Tutor, Math Whizz are some examples of resources that have helped our students learn and allow for 24/7 anytime learning!  Other on-line programs like Edmodo, Wikispaces, and Facebook are being used with students and staff to facilitate engagement in learning and collaboration.  Remind 101 is an app staff are using to send text reminders to students, parents and staff to keep them up to date on important activities, dues dates, and assignments.

I have used both Edmodo and Wikispaces to facilitate staff development and to model the use of technology.  Twitter, Zite, and LinkIn are some tremendous resources for keeping abreast of educational news, innovations, and advancements.  Additionally, both KASA and KASS support online professional communities that I can use to learn from and share with other Kentucky superintendents.  Also, I utilize Lync for meetings and collaboration, especially with external partners across the state.  Finally, I have utilized Vimeo for online videos used for training and communication.

Finally, I use tools like Twitter, facebook, our website, OneCall Now and School Reach to communicate with a wide array of stakeholders.  These tools are effective in sharing best practices, student and staff successes, along with events in our schools and districts.  It also helps set the bar for excellence as I am constantly sharing examples of best practice in pictures, videos and words.  People love the pictures and videos!
 

How does being connected impact your practice? 

Achieving our vision and mission requires the efforts of many people.  All of the tools, structures, and systems in place allow me to be more intentional in leading, serving, and supporting our stakeholders in advancing our vision.  The tools and strategies I shared above help keep me in tune with what’s working, what’s not working, and possible solutions to help us continuously improve.  Again, it’s the people, not the programs that make the school and school system.  My ability to be in tune and engaged with what’s going on is critical to our success.  Using some of these tools allows me to expand my ability to understand and influence what’s going on.  It also lets people know that I am out and about being close and curious with what’s going on in our schools!  This enhances credibility and a level of accessibility that is beneficial.
 

How does being connected impact you as a professional?

The old adage that it is lonely at the top can be very true.  However, using the resources I have described allows me to connect with other superintendents across the state and nation.  Additionally, I can connect with educators all over the world!  I find it invigorating and empowering to have these connections.  It breaks down isolation and opens a realm of support, collaboration, resources, and learning that was once not possible.  The results we are attaining in Kentucky are not accidental.  Regardless of geographic location, all of us have access to the knowledge, skills, resources, and supports needed to help every child achieve college and/or career readiness by graduation.  We simply need to get connected, roll-up our sleeves and take it!

 

What advice or resources would you recommend to colleagues interested in becoming connected?

My best advice is just simply start doing something!  Dive in and learn!  For example, I didn’t understand how Twitter could help me as a superintendent.  Now that I started using it, I realize the power this tool has for communication, collaboration, and professional development!  Amazing!

Be intentional in leading and supporting school system stakeholders in becoming connected themselves.  Besides being a role model – remember that actions speak louder than words – plan and implement the systems, resources, structures, and logistics that bring people together…

Finally, have fun with it!  Learning is stimulating and often fun!  Take the challenge and learn something new that will allow you to be a more connected educator!  It will benefit you and the folks you serve!

 

Twitter handle, links to blog, website, etc: Twitter - @jflynnfswildcat; website – www.simpson.kyschools.us; facebook page – Simpson County Schools; LinkedIn – Jim Flynn, Ed.D.; Vimeo – James Flynn

Bringing Out the Best in Others

Almost all of us want to bring out the best in ourselves and others we interact within our professional and personal lives.  In our schools, it is an imperative!  If we don’t take care to ensure the “right stuff” is included to ensure we bring out the best in others, we will fall short of our goals and we cannot let that happen!  Here are some key concepts:  

A.  Positive Expectations

The fact that you expect to accomplish your goals makes reaching them almost inevitable.  As a leader in your classroom or your area, it is your job to help our students think they can!  If you expect the best from people and if you communicate it clearly and consistently through your words, your tone of voice, your body language, your communication setting – people will respond.

B.  Accountability

What is the #1 requirement for getting something done?  Someone’s got to do it!  Without accountability, nothing ever really gets done.  Lack of accountability paves the way for mediocrity.  We aspire to achieve EXCELLENCE in everything we do – not mediocrity. 

Keys to making Accountability work:

  1. Establish Accountability - Accountability is positive.  Blame is negative – blame gets us no where!
  2. Set Goals - Clear, Compelling and Understandable - Create a proactive, rather than reactive mindset - Create a focus
  3. Develop Action Plans - How will the goals be accomplished?
  4. Engage People in the Process - Involve people in the identification & development of goals and action plans, as well as the measurement and monitoring of progress.  This includes our students!  We must “let them in on” what we want to accomplish and understand what they want to accomplish as well!

C.  Feedback - is information we receive that tells us how well we’re doing.  It helps us stay on track and make progress toward our goals.

Three Types of FEEDBACK

  1. Motivational – cheering, encouraging, recognizing
  2. Informational – information on performance, measuring progress
  3. Developmental – corrective action

Motivational Feedback

  • Positive Feedback = Reinforcement – it’s energizing, validates effort, makes you want to achieve even greater things.
  • Negative Feedback = Punishment – energizes in a different way, renewed effort to perform better – but not always.
  • No Feedback = Extinction – least motivating response you can make to any action.

Which type of feedback is most often used? NO FEEDBACK.  The thing we find hardest to accept is no attention.  We all know that kids strive for our attention – either positive or negative.  Too often we’re over-attentive and quick to criticize when someone messes up.  Spend more time looking for improvement and the positive.  When someone performs reliably all the time, or when someone works hard and makes steady progress, we often say nothing at all.  BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN OTHERS REQUIRES THAT WE REINFORCE IMPROVEMENTS, EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT THERE YET!

Five Principles of REINFORCEMENT

  1. Reinforce Immediately – the more immediate, the more powerful.
  2. Reinforce ANY Improvement – not just excellence.
  3. Reinforce Specifically
  4. Reinforce New Behaviors Continually
  5. Reinforce Good Habits Intermittently

Informational Feedback - Providing information on performance toward a goalA goal is a powerful motivator. 

Developmental Feedback - Course Correction

5 Steps for Discussing Performance Problems

1.  Define the Issue

  • Plain statement of facts – don’t play the blame game!
  • Underlying message is I like you & respect you, but not the behavior…

2.  Ask for Solutions

  • Future oriented, neutral questions – i.e. How can this be corrected?  What can we do to reverse this trend?
  • Avoid questions that are historical in nature, that can be answered with yes/no, and that begin with why or who (they ask for reasons, but invite excuses).

3.  Explore Options - brainstorm, talk less & listen more…

4.  Reinforce Positive Responses – focus attention on best responses, keep asking questions toward future goals, avoid discussing the past.

5.  Close the Deal – get a commitment, summarize and propose an agreement.

These are excellent concepts for leading our students and others to their very best performance.  Like many things, these concepts are simple to understand, but are often times difficult to consistently implement.  Let’s strive to make these behaviors routine, in particular when dealing with our students!

Jim Flynn, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Simpson County Schools

270-586-8877

james.flynn@simpson.kyschools.us

Follow me on twitter: @jflynnfswildcat

Kids Matter Most!

VISION: To be a world-class educational system empowering all students to graduate LIFE-READY - academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers!

MISSION:  To develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!

 

Raising the Dropout Age

In 1920, the Kentucky legislature decided the compulsory school attendance age should be set at 16 years old. A lot has changed in the past 93 years!  Our job market has evolved to the point that most employers require employees to have at least a high school diploma or GED, and prefer employees to have some form of specialized training or higher education.

It is easy to conclude that dropping out of high school can lead a young person to have a very difficult time finding employment. There have been a number of studies and reports released that show high school dropouts, if they are employed, earn a wage substantially less than those who have a high school diploma. Those same studies also show that high school drop-outs are far more likely to be dependent on welfare programs or to end up incarcerated.

It is clear that a young person without a high school diploma will have a long, difficult road to travel in our current job market and society. When Governor Steve Beshear took office in 2007, he and First Lady Jane Beshear began a strong push to raise the compulsory age to 18. Recently, Gov. Beshear signed that measure into law, giving local Boards of Education the opportunity to raise their compulsory age.

Simpson County Schools operates on the belief that it is the responsibility of the school district to give each student the opportunity to have the best future possible. Therefore, the Simpson County Board of Education approved the policy revisions to raise the compulsory age in Simpson County from 16 to 18. Keeping students in school those extra two years gives them a better opportunity to have a successful future.  This policy will take effect in two years beginning with the 2015-2016 school year. 

Those who balk at the measure have concerns about forcing students who do not want to be in school to remain. Many are uneasy about the costs for alternative programs for those students. However, this new law will simply challenge us to be creative in providing the right opportunities for each of those students. In Simpson County Schools, we are already working to give our students reasons to stay in school and earn their diploma. District and school administrators have spent a lot of time listening to students and finding ways to meet their expectations for their educational experience.  Since we believe that everyone learns differently, should we not look for different ways to provide a path toward a high school diploma?  With that in mind, the Simpson County Board of Education approved the formation of Taskforce to study alternative education in our school system.  The taskforce will consist of a broad range of stakeholders to help formulate a report and recommendations to the board to ensure we have the range of services needed at every level to help our students find success and graduate college and/or career ready.

In 2011-2012, Simpson County Schools dropout rate was 0.3% compared to the state average of 1.6%.  The majority of our dropouts were already 18 years old.  We are proud that our rate is extraordinarily low; however, our goal remains to have zero dropouts. We want all of our students to find value in the education they are receiving. Over the past several years, the district has implemented many initiatives to help students find their way to success.  We have a robust continuum of services that support our students to help them find success.  This continuum of services also ensures we have options that will limit disruptive students from interfering with the educational progress of others.  

Obviously, we believe that changes to secondary education are necessary. Approaching education from a student-focused perspective is critical to individual success. This district is resolved to creatively meet the needs of all of our students so that they have every opportunity for a successful future. While we are proud of our efforts in the last several years, we know we have more work to do to ensure 100% of our students graduate academically and socially prepared for college, careers, and success in life. Working creatively and listening to our customers – our students and parents, we will achieve this vision.

Jim Flynn, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Simpson County Schools

270-586-8877

james.flynn@simpson.kyschools.us

Follow me on twitter: @jflynnfswildcat

Kids Matter Most!

VISION: To be a world-class educational system empowering all students to graduate LIFE-READY - academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers!

MISSION:  To develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!

 

Welcome to a New School Year!

I want to welcome everyone to the 2013-2014 school year in Simpson County Schools!  This time of year always brings a sense excitement as we count down to the start of school!  We have a great school-year planned for our students and look forward to having them back in our classrooms on August 14th!  Our vision is to be the best school system in the state of Kentucky that empowers our students to graduate life-ready – academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers!  To that end, our mission is simple – to develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!  Our expectations are very high for every student and employee in our school system.  To meet this important vision and mission, we focus our efforts on five fundamental questions that drive the work in our schools:

  1. Do we have a clear plan for building positive, professional relationships with students, their families and one another?
  2. Do we have clear procedures for making sure we are teaching the standards that we expect all students to know and be able to do in order to graduate college and/or career ready?
  3. Do we have clear procedures for making sure our students have learned the standards?
  4. Do we have clear procedures for making sure we “fix it” when students struggle learning and meeting the standards?
  5. Do we have clear procedures for providing enrichments and “stretch” learning for students who are already meeting or exceeding the standards?

We will maintain a “laser-like” focus on these guiding questions in our work throughout the 2013-2014 school year!

Education is a people business and it is our people who make our school great!  We have amazing students with an array of talents and abilities.  Our teachers, administrators and support personnel are committed to our students and their well-being.  Our Board of Education: Brigette Crawford, Heidi Estes, Debbie Hudson, Wes Stone and David Webster, are focused on student learning and efficient operations that results in high levels of performance throughout our school system.  We have supportive parents and community members who enrich the lives’ of our students in many ways.  We are very appreciative of this and invite continued community involvement and support for our schools.

We have a talented team of people at our Central Office who are committed to our vision and mission.  Shelina Smith, Teacher Quality and District Assessment Coordinator, lends her skills and efforts to support professional development, capacity-building for our teachers and leaders, and supporting high quality instruction in our classrooms.  Sheila Baugh, Specialized Instructional Program Coordinator, will continue leading our efforts to implement effective intervention supports for students who need extra help meeting our learning goals.  Whittney Maxwell is our Academic Programs Coordinator.  Her primary duties will be to coordinate the development of the district curriculum, consult with our schools on instruction and assessment issues, assist with the district assessment program, and serve as a resource in the selection of instructional programs/materials & textbooks for our students.  Helping us recruit and hire the very best folks to work with and around our students is Milli McIntosh, Director of Human Resources.  Joey Kilburn is our DPP/ Student Support Services Coordinator.  He leads and supports efforts to make our school safe and healthy places for students to learn and grow.   Amanda Deweese, Finance Director, leads finance and business operations divisions.  Robert White, our Operations Manager, leads and supports our maintenance and custodial services.   Sarah Richardson heads up our Food Service Program and Scot Perdue is our District Technology Coordinator.  Our School Psychologists, Michelle Antle and Sarah Thompson provides expertise and support for students with special needs.  None of us could do our jobs well without the help of our administrative support staff – Julie Traughber, Ruth Britt, Lesley Forshee, Tammy Cinkan, Robin Clark, Melissa Franklin and Michelle Guess.  Our Central Office team is focused on providing exemplary leadership, service and support to our schools centered on the learning needs of our students.  Feel free to contact us at 586-8877 for assistance with any issue, need or question you may have about our school system. 

The motto of our school system is to be a “Great Place to Learn, where KIDS MATTER MOST!”  Safety is paramount to our vision and mission, so we work extremely to ensure a safe, orderly environment in our schools. Additionally, we keep the needs and well-being of our students at the center of every decision.  We are continuously striving to improve our school system on behalf of our students and community.  I invite you to join our mission to develop each child to their fullest potential, prepare them for the next level of life, and graduate them college and/or career ready!  We welcome your feedback – positive or negative – on the job we’re doing serving the youth of Simpson County.  Remember, investing in our youth is an investment in our future – and our children are worth our commitment, time and resources!

Jim Flynn, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Simpson County Schools

james.flynn@simpson.kyschools.us

Follow me on Twitter: @jflynnfswildcat

Kids Matter Most!

VISION: To be a world-class educational system empowering all students to graduate LIFE-READY - academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers!

MISSION:  To develop each child to their fullest potential and prepare them for the next level of life!

 

 

 

My Finnish Experience

 

The Finnish Experience: A Reflection by Jim Flynn, Ed.D.

I had the privilege to participate on a trip to Finland as part of a 22-member team of superintendents, board members, college professors, and graduate students to learn the secret behind the country’s high performance on international tests. We visited with various university professors and representatives who train teachers and principals, visited two schools, met with Fulbright exchange teachers, union representatives, representatives from the Ministry of Education including Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  Our visits gave us a fairly broad perspective of the Finnish education system and many opportunities for dialog, idea exchange, and questions.

Finland has ranked very high in recent years on the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA), sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  PISA is given to 15 year olds every three years in about 74 countries world-wide.  It measures performance in reading, math, and science literacy.

My Finnish experience made a profound impact on me as an educational leader.  I am particularly interested in the aspect of Finnish culture that contributes to the success of their education system.  In addition, I believe the teacher education and preparation system is a big factor in their success.  Finally, I am fascinated with the emphasis on multi-lingualism among the Finnish people and its role in the educational success of Finnish students.  Interestingly, the Finnish educators I spoke with only viewed the foreign language education as an economic necessity, not as an educational advantage.

The affect of the Finnish culture on the schools and education system were well documented in the literature I read prior to my visit to Finland.  In his book Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?, Pasi Sahlberg describes how the values of trust, professionalism, and shared responsibility permeate the education system.  Unlike many other contemporary education systems, the Finnish system has not been infected by market-based competition and high-stakes testing policies.  Consequently, unhealthy competition has not permeated the system.  Additionally, equity is a key cultural attribute supported in Finland.  Educational and social policies in the country are inter-twined to support all students.  The collective consensus of the country around the well-being of its people, providing a good public education system is evident among everyone we met.  They are proud of their welfare programs, as well as their education system.

There is a strong trust-responsibility ethic in Finland.  Trust is an important component in the Finnish culture, particularly as it relates to education.  The Finnish people trust the Ministry of Education to provide an equitable and high quality system of education, the Ministry of Education trusts the municipalities and schools to do their part, principals trust their teachers, and in turn the teachers trust their students.  One reason it seems to work is the strong ethic around responsibility.  Finnish schools, and I assume families do as well, emphasize self-initiative, teamwork, and a positive outlook which leads to a culture of self-regulation, trust, and personal responsibility.  Interestingly, it was noted that almost every presenter in their introductions to us clearly articulated their responsibilities besides telling their name and job title. 

It appears this strong commitment to a trust-responsibility culture works in Finland.  They have no accountability tests until the very end of secondary education with the National Matriculation Exam.  Teachers and schools are not closely monitored.  In fact, principals rarely observe classrooms.  Teacher evaluations are mainly self-evaluations.  Teachers generally meet with their principal annually to discuss their professional development needs.  However, there is no formal evaluation of the teacher.  Students are trusted as well.  We observed students going to recess and the cafeteria by themselves.  The students are expected to self-regulate according to the expectations of the school. 

Students not only receive a high quality education system, they are entitled to any welfare service they may need for full engagement in their educational program.  These services include general health and dental care.  Additionally, all students in basic education receive free meals.  Students with disabilities are screened early for intervention services.  Again, the Finns are proud of these systems that enhance the well-being of all students.

In Finland, teachers are revered and respected in the culture.  Because of the societal reverence along with the autonomy and independence they enjoy in their work, teaching attracts many of the best and brightest individuals.  Interestingly, teachers in Finland get paid similarly to teachers in America.  However, the autonomy and societal respect make teaching one of the most desirable careers in Finland.  They typically have thousands of applicants for a very limited number of admissions with about 10% being admitted to teacher education programs.  The Ministry of Education limits the number of openings in the university teacher education programs.  This makes these programs even more competitive and desirable. 

Clearly the Finnish culture makes a big difference in their educational success.  Interestingly, some of the core tenants of the culture of education are very different from those found in the United States and Kentucky.  We are steeped in a system of high stakes testing and accountability, moving toward more standardization, and make competition among schools and students a major emphasis.  All of these policy initiatives erode the trust-responsibility ethic we desire in our schools.  It is essential we deliver exceptional leadership to offset the impact of these policy maneuvers and focus our professional educators and students on the learning process and developing an effective character ethic for success.    

As I shared earlier, the teaching profession attracts many of the best and brightest students.  Consequently, Finnish universities can be highly selective in teacher education.  As a result, the universities take more responsibility for teacher quality in Finland. They do the front end work of screening candidates and training them for their work in schools. The clinical experience component seems to be very powerful and provide student teachers with experience in the classroom with significant feedback prior to graduation. Subject teachers do advanced study in their content areas at the master’s level as part of their preparation, while classroom teachers also are required to earn a master’s degree.  This high level of training with talented people has had a profound impact on the student performance outcomes including PISA.

Another big take-away from my experience and research is the apparent power of the language development programs in Finland. I contend that one of the powerful different makers for Finland is the fact that their students study multiple languages annually throughout their schooling.  All students learn Finnish, Swedish, and at least one other language (mostly English).  In fact, most schools begin teaching English in the 3rd grade.  Many students take an additional foreign language before completing their studies. There is evidence that early language development can change the brain and improve overall academic success.  Though the Finns see the multi-lingual education as an economic necessity, it may be a key component in their success.

Finally, the idea of "school is school" is interesting and may play an important role in the success of Finnish schools.  Schools in Finland mainly deliver classroom instruction.  Beyond that, the schools offer very limited activities.  Athletics is mostly delivered through community athletic clubs.  The arts are often integrated in the classrooms, but many of the performing arts programs occur outside the school as well.  Several of the Finnish educational leaders pointed out that “school is school” as one of the advantages they have over American schools.

Jamie Vollmer, an American businessman and educational advocate, speaks about how the American society keeps piling on programs and initiatives in our schools that are not really education issues. It seems that schools in America are the preferred conduit to solving all our societal issues. However, this approach may weaken what we are really designed to do - help kids learn! I realize this is not an easy fix, but it may need to be more of the conversation with our policy makers at all levels.  I will qualify this by emphasizing that many of our extra-curricular programs are wonderful additions and enhance the educational experience of our students.  I would never want to give up our athletic, arts, and other academic programs that are not explicitly part of the school’s classroom academic program.  I believe these programs provide students with niches and a sense of belonging.  Additionally, many of these teach important skills of teamwork, creativity, persistence, and good communication.  However, there are add-ons in our schools that may not belong and this issue needs more attention in Kentucky and the USA.  

In closing, this experience affirms the power of the culture in all aspects of life, including our work as educators. Finnish culture plays an important role in the success of their schools. I believe they adhere to a set of values, beliefs, and principles that affects behaviors of the people in positive ways regarding education. I believe we can learn something from these principles: trust-based responsibility, a well-being focus, customization, and collaboration vs. competition.  Additionally, the quality of teachers in Finnish schools is a game changer.  High quality teachers make a huge difference in student achievement and Finland has developed a system to produce the teachers they need for success.  Finally, I believe the teaching of multiple languages in Finnish schools makes a difference in their academic performance.

What impact did this experience have for me as leader within the context of my organization?

From a practical application, I am very interested in exploring ways to bring foreign language instruction into our elementary and middle schools at a much more prominent level. We currently have Chinese language, but it is limited and our Chinese teachers focus more on culture sharing in the lower grades. I met recently with Dr. Jacque Van Houten, World Language and International Education Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education.  She gave me some good ideas and leads on schools to visit for learning more about implementing a P-12 foreign language program.  Additionally, I have done some background research about the impact of P-12 foreign language programs on student learning and achievement.  The findings are exciting and enhance my resolve to overcome the financial barriers to implementing a comprehensive foreign language program in my school district.

Another exciting development is the possibility of a clinical practice model partnership with Western Kentucky University and Franklin Simpson High School.  The Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education is offering grants to selected universities to use a clinical practice model for preparing teacher education students.  The model they presented to us has many similarities with the Finnish model.  This may be a good first step in improving teacher quality at the university training level, rather than much of the responsibility falling on school district post-hire which is costly. 

Lastly, I am going to work even harder to cultivate an environment in our school district around the trust-responsibility character ethic frame similar to what we experienced in Finland.  Our district is beginning the journey of implementing the Leader in Me Program, which is based on Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I believe this effort will drive our culture more toward a trust-responsibility culture where people take personal responsibility for their actions by being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first.  Additionally, this effort will enhance our ability to find win-win solutions, listening to understand others, and looking for ways to synergize with others.  These efforts will help us develop students who are academically and socially prepared for college and/or careers, as well as provide our employees with a satisfying and exhilarating career that makes a difference in the lives’ of others!

The Finnish Experience has been a life-altering opportunity for me as an individual and educational leader.  I am honored to have had this experience and look forward to sharing what I learned with others and pursuing the initiatives and ideas I’ve shared.     

Bibliography

Hargreaves, A., Halasz, G., & Pont, P. (2007). School leadership for systematic improvement in Finland: A case study report for the OECD activity improving school leadership. Paris:OECD. Retrieved from School Leadership for Systemic Improvement in Finland.

Partranen, A. (2011). What Americans keep ignoring about Finland's school success. Atlantic Monthly.  Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/**

            Sahlberg, Pasi. (2011). Finnish lessons. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

 

Kupiainen, S., Hautamaki, J., and Karjalainen, T. (2009).  The Finnish education system and PISA.  Helsinki, Finland.  Ministry of Education Publications.

 

Foreign Language Research Resources:

http://www.utm.edu/staff/bobp/french/flsat.html

http://www.ncssfl.org/papers/index.php?rationale

http://www.languagestars.com/pdfs/articles/article_02.pdf

http://news.aaas.org/2011_annual_meeting/0219the-benefits-of-babel.shtml

http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/18/foreign-language-learning-good-for-your-brain/

 

 

UNBRIDLED LEARNING - A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME!

We are experiencing rapid changes in our school district as we work hard to implement Senate Bill 1 – Unbridled Learning.    Our goal is to help every student be college, career, and life ready. SB1 requires new standards, new state assessments and a new accountability system.  It’s a whole new ball game!   It’s a very exciting and challenging time in Kentucky education. 
 
In the new assessment, 100% proficiency is the goal – the old CATS accountability was based on reaching 100 out of 140 (essentially 70%). Our new goal is 100%.   By the fall of 2012, Standards will be set and cut points will be established for ratings, classifying districts and schools as distinguished (top 10% or 90th percentile), proficient (70th to 89th percentile), and needs improvement (below the 70th percentile).
 
We have new common core standards for math and English/languages arts being implemented across our school district right now. These standards are more rigorous than any our students have ever seen before. We hope to see the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for science, social studies, and writing in draft form sometime this school year.
 
Program Reviews for Arts & Humanities, Practical Living/Vocational Studies, and writing will be performed in all schools this year and will be included in the accountability system through the public reporting of data. Full accountability for program reviews will begin in the 2012-2013 school year.
 
Another important piece of Unbridled Learning is the evaluation piece for effective teachers and leaders which is still being developed. Our district is a pilot site for this process and we are providing feedback and will utilize the new teacher evaluation tools as a field test site.
 
Our board of education has made a commitment to College and Career Readiness.  Here is an excerpt from our Commonwealth Commitment Pledge on college and career readiness:  The undersigned, on behalf of the Simpson County Schools, pledge to increase the rate of college and career readiness of the graduate in our school district form 35% in 2010 to 68% in 2015.  In additon, our Board of Education passed a new graduation requirement that students must be college or career ready to graduate from FSHS beginning with the class of 2014.
 
For our students to be considered college and career ready, they must meet the benchmarks on all areas of the ACT, COMPASS or KYOTE test.   The ACT National Benchmarks for the EXPLORE (8th Grade), PLAN (10th Grade), and ACT (11th Grade) are listed below.
 
 
Test
College Course
EXPLORE 8th Grade
PLAN 10th Grade
ACT 11th Grade
Reading
Social Sciences
15
17
21
English
English
Composition
13
15
18
Math
Algebra
17
19
22
Science
 
21
24
 
 
The Kentucky Council on Post Secondary Education has set the Kentucky Benchmarks at 18 for English, 19 for math, and 20 for reading.  Students must the Kentucky benchmarks to be designated college ready for graduation.
 
Our high school students also have End of Course Assessments in Algebra II, English II, Biology, and U.S. History which will count up to 20% of their final grade. These tests are more rigorous than any our students have ever seen before and may determine if a student graduates or not.
 
The important thing to remember is that everything is changing.   We are no longer being measured on a 0-140 scale - It is now on a scale from 0-100. The standards are higher and more rigorous and there will be a growth curve as we adjust to everything that is happening. We must make the cultural shift where our school and community embrace ALL STUDENTS GRADUATING COLLEGE AND/OR CAREER READY. Together - our schools, our parents, our students, and our community - we can do this!
 
 

Get Your Child Back into the School Routine

Summer is quickly winding down and now it's time to get your child back into the school routine. It's not something you can do overnight, however, so start the back-to-school routine about two weeks before school opens.
 
If the child has been staying up late and sleeping in, have him or her go to bed and get up earlier every day for the two weeks before school starts to get back on the school time schedule.
 
Though children might balk at the idea, you will also want to have them start getting dressed on schedule during those practice weeks and eating breakfast too. Do as much as you can to model a normal school morning.
 
As you build up to the first day of school, you will also need to get your child's back-to school list. Take your child shopping for these items and let him or her participate in buying a new book bag or lunch box. Back at home, determine a set location for book bags or any school items that will be needed on school days. This way, no one has to be stressed in the mornings about where homework, uniforms, or any other needed items might have been misplaced.
 
Attend the school's Open House to meet your child's teacher and get to know the school better. This helps students have a higher level of confidence about the first day of school. They know who their teacher is, where their classroom is located, and where they can store their backpack and supplies.
 
No matter what, remember that if you stay positive, in no time your child will be back into the school routine, making new friends, and looking forward to waking up every morning for school.

Recent Posts

Our Students Can't Wait
Being a Connected Educator
Bringing Out the Best in Others
Raising the Dropout Age
Welcome to a New School Year!
My Finnish Experience
UNBRIDLED LEARNING - A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME!
Get Your Child Back into the School Routine