Weigh In: School's Out. What's Your Goal for the Summer Months?
Administrators agree on one thing: There's little time for the beach.
"Every summer, we do a data retreat or a data study," says Jon Bales, superintendent of DeForest Area (WI) School District. "One thing about summer, it's here and gone very quickly, so each time it comes around, we know the couple of things we routinely get done.
"One is our data study. We look at student performance data across a whole set of measures and identify the trends. For example, we looked at data on math performance from a number of years. It was irregular and suggested we needed to improve continuity throughout our K-12. So we revamped our entire math curriculum—the content, the delivery methods and the professional development.
"We also divide our budget into budget centers and do an in-depth analysis of our expenditures. We look at how we're spending money to see it is actually aligned with the things we want to be doing. This is very instructive for the administrative team. It's not as much micromanaging the budget as it is exposing trends so that as a team we can see if we're doing what we want to be doing with our revenue dollars.
"I myself spend time over the summer with each of the school board members. We review the year and look at upcoming initiatives. Our suburban district is poised to grow pretty significantly, so we'll be talking about programming adjustments and possible changes to grade configurations.
"Beyond those projects we routinely take on each summer, I am participating in an initiative that I am very excited about. I am involved in a collaboration among the state teachers' union, the state school board association, and the state association of superintendents. We are working to find common ground on issues that we have historically been at odds on. We have developed skills and practices to enhance collaboration, and this summer we will be putting together a tool kit to roll out in the fall that shares those skills and practices with other local districts."
"This summer, we will present our strategic plan for 2010-15," says Patrick Russo, superintendent of Henrico (VA) County Public Schools. "It will provide the details to the school board and our district stakeholders of where we want to be and how we will get there over the next five years.
"When I came to Henrico in 2009, the district hadn't officially documented its beliefs and values, goals and objectives. There was no identified mission. So we reached out to our stakeholders—hundreds have now been involved in the process—and worked together to outline what direction we wanted to go in. Thanks to full community engagement, we have defined our five major goals: All of our students will complete a curriculum that exceeds state and national standards; all students will gain the necessary life skills to maintain their own well-being; they will all graduate prepared to compete in the real world; they will practice civic responsibility; and finally, they will be effective users of technology.
"Now that we have determined our main priorities, several action teams will be further quantifying what areas we will be focusing on, and figuring out exactly how we are going to achieve all those goals.
"We present the plan to the board in August. Once it is approved, we look forward to implementation in the fall."
"We used to be three formerly separate elementary school districts and a high school district. This is the
summer of unification," says Frank Porter, superintendent of Twin Rivers Unified School District outside of Sacramento. "Now that we are coming together, we are changing our grade configurations and looking for opportunities to strengthen the quality of our programs.
"One of our greatest efforts is in reconfiguring our middle school grades. Rather than students transferring to a new school after sixth grade, as they had previously done, our middle school students will either attend K-8 schools or 6-8 schools. Extensive data analysis as well as experience shows us middle school students who attend K-8 schools tend to perform better not only academically but also behaviorally because they feel rooted in their schools. There are also opportunities for those students to do service learning with younger students.
"Although this decision was spurred by financial concerns, this redesign also gives us the chance to streamline our curriculum and create a more specific educational approach to the middle grades in particular. We hope that by improving the quality of our programs, we will subsequently increase our enrollment and hold on to staff.
"We will be implementing and fine-tuning this reinvention over the summer so that we are ready to deliver for the 2010-11 school year. We think it will reduce costs as well as improve academic performance."
"Our goal is to reimagine our middle school curriculum," says Dr. Dennis Peterson, superintendent of Minnetonka (MN) Public Schools. "It's time to replace a 30-year-old model. We will be looking at ways to create a more rigorous learning program. As well, the first students who were accepted as third graders into our new Navigators' Program, which was designed for students with high IQs, will enter middle school in the fall. So we must devise a middle school curriculum for them. And elementary students currently in our new language immersion program will also soon be entering middle school, so we need to get ready for them.
"Our district will also host a leadership conference in late July. This is the second year we've held this two-day event. Administrators and teachers from local districts are invited to attend, and we expect a great turnout. This year, Doug Reeves and some other high flyers are lined up as speakers. So, we do have quite a bit to do this summer."
"We try not to do our planning over the summer," says Superintendent Joyce Levey of Tuscaloosa (AL) City Schools. "There are so many requirements for our teachers and administrators to fulfill during those months. They are doing professional development, or they are recruiting and retraining personnel. So we try to have most of our 1 2 3's done in the spring. That gives us the next few months to reflect on the action plans we have in place and to go deeper into some fierce conversations about learning so that we can rise to the next level.
"We do hold an Administrative Academy Retreat over the summer. For two and a half days, administrators work on professional growth. We'll discuss struggles and do activities that principals can take back to do with their teachers. We also work on our strategic thinking and plan what we will tackle in our monthly administrative meetings that will start back up in the fall. The retreat is a great way to set the tone.
"Meanwhile, our teachers are taking care of their own education. They may be training to become more tech savvy or studying about cognitive learning. I have to make sure we're ready to embed that professional learning once they return. We have to plan in advance so that decisions are not impulsive or made when not everyone has had the chance to come to the table. Make the plans in advance and use the summer to extend their depth and breadth."
Jacqueline Heinze is a contributing editor at Scholastic Administr@tor.