Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Keep Calm & Press On

This past week our part of the world got a very small glimpse of what life has been like for so many in Texas.  Thursday brought us just over 4 inches of rainfall to the Mid-South.  Once the tornado sirens sounded the shelter in place order was really the only choice we had. 

I applaud our students and staff for remaining calm and understanding the absolute importance of these safety procedures.  It takes every department we have in the WMSD to accomplish what we accomplish daily.  So many times we get wrapped up in teaching and learning that it is easy to forget about all the other things that go into making each day successful and safe for our students.

Our bus drivers need to be commended as well.  Driving in such conditions are challenging enough on paved roads.  We transport many of our students down gravel roads that are not as well maintained as paved roads.  On Thursday of last week we transported our most precious cargo home safely.  Maintenance and custodial was tasked with keeping doorways cleaned and clear of standing water, monitoring roofs, and still performing regular work orders.

We actually had the Emergency Management Systems Director in our office keeping us posted on the tornado warning and communicating shelter advise and potential evacuations if needed.  We are blessed to live in a great community that has the proper resources to notify us of when dangers exist.  Thank goodness for the utility commission drainage pump system as well.  Without these we would have certainly faced flooding.

With the amount of rain we had in such a short amount of time we are bound to have some areas that presented challenges.  We will obviously continue working to address these challenges.

Thank you for following our safety protocols and reacting just the way you did.  It means a lot to our community and to our parents.  So, remember that no matter how routine and mundane our tornado and fire drills seem each month.  They are in place for safety reasons and they do save lives.  These are lessons in which we don't get second chances or "do-overs" so to speak.  Training instills knowledge & calmness.  Knowledge & calmness protects and saves lives.  We protected over 5,500 students last Thursday.  Another successful day in the West Memphis School District and one that will never be measured on a standardized assessment.

I am also attaching a link with some information about the need for Houston Independent School District.  They have been hit with an unthinkable tragedy.  If you have any clubs looking for service projects -- the linked information included in the attachment would be a great place to start. 


Monday, August 28, 2017

How & Why?

Have you ever set at a stand still in interstate traffic due to construction?  I bet the answer is yes.

Many of us have even made the comment - "This will be so much better once it is finally done but it has taken forever."

Sometimes I feel like our progress with student achievement is much like highway construction work.  We all see the need for a better route or smoother transitions.  The fact of the matter is that positive change takes time.  While we see progress slowed to almost a stand still and what even appears to be a backed up line of folks moving in the same direction - highway construction is much like school improvement.  The end result is always better than the work in progress.

We all see the reasons WHY the work is important.  It is just as important to understand and work through the HOW portion as well.

This past week we held our first District Instructional Leadership Team meeting with 3 members of the Arkansas Department of Education School Improvement Division.  It became very clear that the state ESSA plan (Every Student Succeeds Act) once again has changes on the horizon for schools and assessment accountability.

We discussed everything from Kindergarten readiness to graduation rates and everything in between.  It is safe to say that the school improvement division of the ADE is shifting to more of a support role with our state schools than the old way of doing business our of a compliance mindset.  This is a good thing.

Through our conversations we can see that the shift from our state is going to be driven by several new data sets:  DOK (Depth of Knowledge levels), sub group trends, growth, and a new round of status tags for each school.

Therefore, we have our work cut out for us this academic year.  The 2018 spring assessments will be the final data set the state uses to identify the school improvement status for every school in the state moving forward.

1) Schools in need of comprehensive support.
2) Schools in need of additional target support.

Both will require yet another targeted 3 years of accountability measures from the ADE and school actions.

We have already begun work on how to better articulate the WHY part of this equation.  It is fairly simple.  It is Arkansas' response to the federal ESSA.  We will be releasing more information so each department understands the WHY portion of our new state / federal requirements.  Basically, this is our new score card that we all will be responsible for implementing.

We have also begun work with our Principals and Assistant Principals as well as our Instructional Coaches on producing a better instructional focus on HOW we get our students' performances where the state and federal governments say we need to be.

Mrs. Kisa Morman's comments to the committee summed it all up best:  "We all see the reasons WHY it should be done.  We need everyone understanding HOW to get there with absolute clarity and accountability." 

That is exactly what we aim to do for our district.

I relate it back to the highway work.  All of us see the need for adequate roads when we travel.  All of us see the need for continual progress with our students.  Yes - sometimes this means slowing to almost a snail's pace, sometimes this even means sitting still.  We are all going to experience some detours along the way.  And, we are going to feel like we are under constant construction.

Slowing things down before we speed things up is not a bad strategy.  Progress is still being made.  It is just being made at our appropriate pace.  Working through the WHY and the HOW will get our students prepared for a smoother and safer ride through this academic year & through life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WMSD embraces RCA

When successful people look for ways to make significant impacts with the people around them --- the one variable that remains constant is culture.  The driving question becomes "How do we change the culture to not only expect success but to accept success?"  The question is just the tip of the iceberg.  The success comes in the form of how we provide the answer.  This is no secret.  We see struggling companies in the corporate world and even more visible we see struggling professional sports teams and franchises.  These businesses, teams, and franchises don't rebound and go from worst to first without changing their expectations and their culture.  They also learn how to accept and handle success....which is just as important in life.

Every business is different just like every school is different just like every student is different.  There are a thousand ways to express our culture and our expectations.  What may be acceptable practices for some may not be for others.  The key for us in education is finding the right fit or what works best for our students.  Education is shifting more towards personalization and less towards the historical one-size fits all approach like many of us experienced as students.  Every time we commit to helping a student succeed, sometimes against what seems like impossible odds, we're giving that person a new lease on life.

When Wonder Junior High School in the West Memphis School District was commissioned by the state's school improvement office to "Think Outside the Box" and explore new ways to recreate a caring culture on their campus - they used their school improvement grant funds to involve their staff with a life-changing level of commitment and faithfulness to their students that captivated others in West Memphis to follow suit.  Enter the Ron Clark Academy.  Recently, we had a group of elementary educators attend this same training that Wonder Junior attended & installed over a year ago.  These educators have been moved to impact students' lives with a renewed dedication to a new and exciting culture shift for each of their schools.  If you want to see what a changed culture and a commitment to overall and well-rounded student success looks like you just need to take a visit to Wonder Junior High. 

Every single one of these educators have remarked about the commitment each campus has to student success.  It is amazing how inspiring and contagious a positive impact on a student and a campus can become.  Sometimes we all get caught up in the things we can't control.  I have to remind myself and others from time to time -- we need to take a step back and regardless of the issue or topic we need to "put students first".  If we can follow the lead of these teachers and principals when it comes to this commitment of embracing culture shifts and personalization, then we're going to continue to be winning and producing good students in this game of life.

We are going to do whatever it takes to overcome any kind of challenge to deliver to our students the kind of results that they need to change their lives.  It's not just about going through the motions; it's about doing whatever is required to ensure that our students can be successful.  We have a moral obligation to take care of the people who live here in West Memphis and attend our schools.  If we don't take that responsibility seriously, they don't have many options.  We know that every time we help someone toward a brighter future, we have won a major victory for that student, that family, our community, our nation, and our world.

Friday, September 9, 2016

WMSD Building on Progress!

Over the past three years we have been blessed to establish and grow our master facilities plan.  Initially, we have addressed major needs at every single campus site in the West Memphis School District.  There is no rest for the weary.  We recognize we still have much to do.

Established in the early 2000's, the state of Arkansas established the "partnership program" in which districts could participate in a shared state funding model to address academic facilities by meeting a certain set of criteria.  Public school facility funding in Arkansas is composed of three major variables:
Facility Condition is the state of repair of the building infrastructure.  Facility condition takes into consideration all of the building systems from roofs and windows to electrical and mechanical systems.
Educational Suitability is based on having adequate space to support the educational program.
Enrollment Growth addresses the projected school enrollment for the next five to ten years.

Currently, there is much debate swirling around Little Rock and with law/policy makers about shifting the emphasis/access to "partnership funds" to give priority to only those districts that are experiencing rapid growth.  While that conversation may not worry someone outside of our region, it is tremendously significant to those of us who live in eastern Arkansas.

For us, the "partnership plan funds" equate to about .63 cents on each dollar spent towards improving school facility infrastructure on approved projects being paid for by the state.  Before the program existed schools had to rely on savings and bonded debt to update and renovate learning spaces.  Many of us in the Delta are already affected by ailing economies and low tax bases.  The pathway to change this real-life struggle is through a viable education system.

We have developed a master plan to address our aging infrastructure and modernize our learning environments for ALL kids.  This plan will require many stars to line up.  Partnership funding has to continue to be allocated from the state to places like eastern Arkansas.  Our community has to be willing to invest in our children's futures.  Our district must be patient and thoughtful in our approach to remedy some of these concerns.  Everything can not be addressed at the same time.

Our responsibility as this city's public school system is to give our youth better options.  We are constantly asking - How does this or that improve kids?  How can we establish additional opportunities for children?  How can we give them the tools they need to have a viable career after high school?

Graduation day is coming for every student in K-12.  The question should be - What's next?  If you don't think we are attempting to improve life for ALL kids in the West Memphis School District, you've not been paying attention.  We can give you countless examples of people who have already taken advantage of these opportunities.  It is not always about programs.  Sometimes it is about physical environments.  By continuing to improve our school sites to more of a modern-era regarding appearance, engagement, and utilization... our students will be empowered like never before.  And, over the course of time, these are the types of improvements that will change the economic and social face of West Memphis.  Building on Progress!!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The New School Year

The start of the new school year always generates new excitement for students, teachers, and parents.  A whirlwind of events ushers in each new year every August.  Registrations, orientations, back-to-school bashes, teacher in-service, general maintenance work, food service trainings, and transportation plans all take place.  Some how, some way all these functions are linked to make the first day of class and really every day after day one run as smooth as possible.

Putting students first is something we really excel at in the West Memphis School District.  We realize many in the student population we serve are faced with a multitude of challenges each day.  It is our job as educators and adult citizens of our great city to see that we give our kids the very best we have to offer.  This is how we change the trajectory of their futures.  We all invest a great deal of time, thought, and effort into making our process as easy as possible because we understand that a little bit of encouragement to a child goes a long way.

At the end of each day, we want our students to think of their school as a second home, a place where they are nurtured, encouraged, challenged, and motivated to reach their God-given potential.  We firmly believe there is no better place in the Delta to experience a K-12 education, and we guarantee that no place on earth cares more about their students' futures than we do at all of our schools in the West Memphis School District.  I encourage you to support our kids by supporting the West Memphis School District.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Certification Success Stories

Twenty seven of our students recently took giant steps toward rewarding careers by earning a certificate from the National Restaurant Association Food Handler exam.  This is the first of several certifications that our students can possibly earn during their high school career as a Hospitality student.

This is exactly what we envisioned for this pathway and what we hope to replicate in the future many times over as we align our programs, instruction, and training with nationally-recognized industry credentials.  These certifications are game changers for our students and potential employers.  They give students workplace relevant acknowledgement of their skills and abilities, and they allow employers to remove the guesswork from the hiring process equation.

When our students take and pass outside certification exams, they aren't just validating the education and training the receive at the Academies of West Memphis & ASU MidSouth.  They are demonstrating the ability to meet a national standard based on universal performance assessments.

The AWM features educational pathways that encompass both traditional and innovative driven models and accelerated options.

Our students are blessed to be able to work in such a robust career and technical environment at the Secondary Technical Center at ASU-MidSouth.  This institution has some of the finest technical training equipment in the region.  Our conversion charter partnership  strives to place our students in the best learning environment we possibly can.  When our students master the technical equipment in this world-class environment, they are definitely prepared to meet the challenges of the working profession.

WMSD is being recognized as one of the catalyst in the state for sparking a stronger emphasis on CTE.  Our course focus on these last two years has been primarily on grades 9-12.  However, as we plan for the future we realize that expanding these potential pathways need to be incorporated at a much earlier level.  The fact that we can see the great successes of this academy program and the life changing opportunities it provides for kids is the true definition of student-focused education.  And that's how we should be measured as a public education institution.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Basketball is here!

As we prepare for the end of the fall semester, Blue Devil / Lady Devil basketball is in full swing.  Coach Bray and Coach Burns are fine tuning over the next few weeks in preparation for the upcoming conference season.  Our student-athletes need your support to create the best home court advantage we possibly can.

When we return to campus in January, we will be making our final tour in class 7A.  The next two seasons we will be competing in a new conference that will be closer to West Memphis from a geographical sense.  In the mean time, we will continue to compete in the blended 7A/6A conference for the spring of 2016.

Our Lady Devils are off to a great start and our boys continue to develop as we play our last few non-conference games before January.  We need as much student section support for our "round ballers" to match our "gridiron support".  Coach Dauksch has made the courtside experience more accessible for all of our fans as he has moved the reserved seating upward towards the concourse.

We invite you to experience a great basketball environment in Lehr Arena.  It is hard to believe we are competing in our 8th season in this venue.  Take notice of the new home court design, be on the look out for game day promotions in the student section and take advantage of the lower first row seating at mid-court to be close to the action.  While we can't guarantee victories - we can guarantee great effort from our teams and coaches.  Go Blue Devils!