Tag Archives: principals

The Continued Success of the Petal School District is not Luck!

Is the only constant in this world the success of the Petal School District?  I was blessed to serve twenty-five years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Petal School District, and it was a great school district before I arrived on the scene, it was a great school district while I was there, and it is a great school district today.  Recently, the state released school accountability scores and rankings, and the Petal School District was once again ranked in the top five school districts in the state (number one in mathematics).  No one was surprised because no one can remember when or if there was a time in its history that Petal was not ranked at the top.  The mark of a great school district, athletic team, or great business is the ability to sustain success over time regardless of who is at the helm or in the trenches, and the Petal Schools have done a remarkable job of maintaining success even when key personnel have changed.

In the past four years, the District has had two superintendents, changes in directorships, and multiple changes in school principals and assistant principals, yet, it has remained a top-rated school district.  That is amazing!  However, what is more amazing is the District has maintained its success even with the loss of some great teachers who have retired or moved elsewhere due to family and career decisions.  Common sense says for a school to be successful it must have great teachers in the classroom.  In fact, research supports a quality teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in the education of a child.  However, in an era of state and nation-wide teacher shortages, it is not easy to find quality teachers to replace outgoing quality teachers even for a school district, like Petal, with a strong discipline and academic reputation, so how does Petal do it?

Having worked in the school district, I am very familiar with the “movers and shakers” (great educators) among the teachers and administrators, but until recently, while browsing the District website I was unaware of the turnover that has occurred over the past four years.  The school websites are filled with new teacher and administrator faces at almost every school.  Most of the old guard is gone!  The people I always believed made the schools great were missing, but success marched on without them.  How could that be?  Maybe, there is truth to the adage, “One monkey does not stop the show.”

Before I retired, I often bragged, the key to my success at Petal High School was the quality of teachers that lifted me and the students on their shoulders and made what sometimes appeared impossible possible.  Although many of the administrators and teachers who carried me to success are now gone, Petal High School and the District continues to be successful.  That is not only a tribute to the recruiting efforts of the District, it is a tribute to the foundation on which the District is built.  Superintendents, directors, staff, teachers, principals, and school board members come and go, but the two constants, the two non-negotiables, that never change in the District are “everyone is accountable for learning” and an undying attitude that “ALL children can learn.”  These constants result in a successful school district year after year regardless who leads the way in or outside the classroom.

Faces change, but as the battle-scarred veteran teachers gradually move on to another phase in their lives, fresh faces arrive to grow into their shoes.  Like those before them, they pick up the banner of excellence, refuse to lower standards for themselves or their students, and rise above the crowd.  They do so because that is the PETAL WAY; the only WAY for a Petal educator!  Petal educators expect the impossible of themselves and the children they teach, they rise above their imperfections and the imperfections of their students and show them what may seem impossible is but a grain of sand in their shoe.  They lift kids – their own and the kids of others – on their shoulders and carry them – sometimes kicking and screaming – to heights they would never know unless their teacher sacrificed a piece of their life, their heart, and their soul to show them the way.

However, where does the district continue to find quality teachers who have the ability to pick up where the masters left off and walk in their shoes?  Contrary to widespread belief, good teachers are not a dime a dozen; they are few and far between.  They cannot be contracted through Amazon and arrive in the classroom in two days, so where are they found?  Maybe, there is a secret door hidden under a green moss laden bluff somewhere along the Tallahala Creek where teachers with iron nerves who do not know the meaning of “quit”, teachers with hearts of glass kids can look into and learn trust, and teachers with eyes that say, “I am here for you – take my hand” stand waiting patiently for their time to step forward and cultivate our tomorrow.  Or, maybe quality teachers are born somewhere off the Gulf Coast in emerald waters salted lightly with rock flour and wisps of dreams and hope.  More likely, there are no secret doors or emerald waters, only a one-time school boy or girl who grew up to be a teacher with dreams to save the world one child at a time, and was fortunate enough to find like-minded people in a place that has yet to give up on its children and their dreams – the Petal School District.

Yes, year after year, it amazes me how superintendents, directors, staff, principals, teachers, and even school board members can change, yet, the school district continues to not only be successful but thrive.  Working hard and smart with kids as the bottom line while plugging in a sincere love for them and passion for learning is a surefire formula for success, and that success becomes even more sustainable when everyone from the superintendent to the custodian understands everything a school district does is about kids.  “Doing what is best for kids” is what ensures success for the District regardless of who the superintendent or the teachers in the classroom may be.  When a school district asks, “What is best for the kids?” prior to every decision it makes, it cannot not help but be successful year after year.  That single question puts every decision and every action in the proper perspective for a school district.  It enables a small, underfunded (by the state) school district like Petal to succeed where others fail.  My hat is off to those who laid the foundation, to the old guard who remain as models of commitment and excellence, and to those brave new faces that are carrying on the tradition of Petal excellence.  My hat is off to the Petal School District for always putting kids first.  By doing so, the District will always be a success!  Congratulations, Petal educators for another successful school year! You deserve every accolade laid upon you!  Your success is not luck!  You work hard for your success, so take a few minutes to enjoy a job well done, then get back to work – the kids need you.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2017

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Principals do not Invent Crappy Useless Time Consuming Things for Teachers to do!

Most teachers do not understand what makes their principal tick, or why so much of what he does comes across as stupid or without reason. They often wonder what planet he is from, why he constantly assigns extra work to them, why he is always on their back, what possesses him to make asinine decisions, and the list goes on and on. However, contrary to popular teacher beliefs, principals are just as human as teachers. Sometimes they may not act it, but they are indeed human, and as such, they feel many of the same frustrations teachers feel. Although their actions may sometimes appear desperate, stupid, insensitive, or outright incompetent, there is usually some rhyme or reason to their madness. But, teachers often fail to understand the madness due to not comprehending how the principalship works, and/or due to misconceptions about principals that have been engrained in the teaching profession for decades.

A major misconception of many teachers is that principals sit around inventing crappy useless time consuming things for teachers to do. The truth, however, is that most principals do not have time to sit down much less think about inventing crappy useless time consuming tasks. When they do sit, it is often with their face in their hands wondering how they are going to find time during the school day to meet with five irate parents, two bickering teachers, visit at least ten classrooms, attend a meeting at central office with the assistant superintendent and food services director on the nutritional value of serving SPAM burgers over hamburgers in the school cafeteria, complete a mega data report due to central office by 3:00 p.m., meet with the superintendent over a disciplinary issue that has the community up in arms, meet with a fuming bus driver who doesn’t think the assistant principal is supporting her when she tells kids they cannot read a book on her bus, meet with a couple of fired-up club sponsors to explain for the second time why they cannot conduct candy sales during breakfast and lunch, make phone calls to local pastors apologizing for the football team practicing late Wednesday evening, meet after school with the counselors to discuss course offerings for the next school year, supervise the junior varsity football game that night, and before going to bed at one or two in the morning complete a crappy useless time consuming report that must be on the superintendent’s desk no later than 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Another common teacher misconception is the principal and sometimes even the school board is out to get them. Unless the teacher lives in Oxford, Mississippi and his name is Dan Jones, this is not something teachers need to worry about. Principals do not have time to plot against anyone. They do not want to get rid of teachers unless they are not doing their job. One of the happiest times of a principal’s professional life is when he doesn’t have to conduct interviews to fill teaching vacancies for the coming school year. That rarely happens, but when it does, no one is happier than the principal. Principals are usually so thankful they have found enough teachers crazy enough to sign a contract that plotting to get rid of one of them rarely crosses their mind. The only plotting most principals are guilty of is scheming to find a week to get away during the summer.

The bottom line for principals is they, like teachers, are simply trying to survive. Why should they invent conflict when the very nature of their job tends to attract more conflict than they ever bargained for? Teachers understand stress and conflict as much as anyone, so why they often believe school administrators are sheltered from or immune to conflict is baffling. Maybe the problem is that unlike the principal who has served as a classroom teacher, teachers do not have a reference point to help them make a connection between the job they do and the job a principal does. In the eyes of many teachers, the principal’s job is to make sure there is toilet paper in the teacher lounge restrooms, keeping troublesome students out of their hair, and staying out of their way so they can teach. They simply do not understand what a principal does all day other than sit in his office and think of more useless crap for them to do. Therefore, it stands to reason that if they had a better understanding of the role of the principal, they might better understand that the roles of a teacher and principal are extensions of each other – each needs the other to have a successful school as well as to survive.

What Every Teacher Needs To Know About The Principal

  1. The principal was once a teacher too. It is doubtful that he has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher:
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was one of those principals who spent less than five years as a classroom teacher. To expect a person to be an effective administrator without adequate time in the classroom is laughable. Without a solid base of five or more years in the classroom, it is a rare principal or assistant principal who truly understands the role of the teacher and has the knowledge and tools to provide the administrative support expected by the teachers;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was socially promoted (Yes, it happens with students, and it happens with teachers). Sometimes an inept or marginal teacher is promoted to an administrative position because he is a hometown boy, goes to the right church, travels in the right circles, or at one time was a damn good coach, so when the day comes the district can no longer prop him up as a teacher or his coaching candle dims, he is promoted to assistant principal or principal as the lesser of evils;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he is just an outright A__hole, and unfortunately, just like with teachers, there are sometimes a few of these hanging around;
  2. Principals, like teachers, want to be left alone! Like teachers, they would like to be able to do their job without constant interruptions from central office, angry or needy parents, bickering teachers, gossip generated by teachers, and vendors peddling their wares;
  3. Principals hate paperwork, evaluations, and testing as much as teachers . . . .
    • Principals rarely require extra paperwork of their teachers unless by directive from central office or the state department of education. When it comes to paperwork, ninety-nine percent of the time the principal is simply the messenger;
    • Principals don’t like being judged/evaluated, and they dislike judging/evaluating others even more. This is especially true when the evaluation process and evaluation tool is little more than an “I gottcha” process or a checklist to document the principal went through the motions of conducting a teacher evaluation. These types of evaluations are a waste of time for both the principal and the teacher; and
    • Most principals understand that accountability is important, but when state testing eats up a quarter of the instruction time allotted for the school year, the school ceases to exist as a place of learning. It is transformed into a data collection venue for data that has little relevancy for the students or teachers by the time it is processed and sent back to the school several months later;
  4. Principals make decisions based on the following priorities . . . .
    • First, the safety of the students, faculty, support staff, and uncertified personnel;
    • Second, what is best for students;
    • Third, what is best for the faculty;
    • Fourth, what is best for the support staff;
    • Fifth, what is best for individual certified personnel;
    • Sixth, what is best for the community;
    • Seventh, what is best for non-certified personnel; and
    • Finally, what is best for the administrative staff can only be considered after all other considerations have been evaluated;
  5. Principals and teachers are both human, and as such, they are not always right. The difference is that teachers expect to be forgiven for their faults or mistakes, but they are often reluctant to extend forgiveness to an administrator for his faults or mistakes;
  6. It is not personal on the principal’s part if he forgets something he was told outside his office. More than likely, a principal will be stopped several times in the hall by teachers, students, custodians, etc., so the odds of his remembering all the important things he was told in the hallway when he gets back to his office are very slim at best;
  7. Teachers do not have a monopoly on stress! Principals deal with stress from home, students, parents, colleagues, central office, the state department, federal guidelines, community, church, Walmart, the mall, etc. Principals are confronted by school stress no matter where they go! Principals are on stress call 24/7.
  8. Like teachers, principals like to hear they are appreciated for the job they do. Constant negatives tend to raise stress levels and make both teachers and principals a little less human;
  9. Principals welcome constructive feedback. If something is not working, teachers should talk to their principal about it, but they should never talk to him without a solution in mind. The solution should be well thought out and even backed by research when possible. Principals value the perspective of teachers who share ideas and concerns with them. They may not always agree, and sometimes the meeting accomplishes little more than an agreement to disagree, but by initiating a conversation with the principal, the teacher has planted the seed for possible change in the future. Teachers must also understand that principals cannot make every brilliant idea happen that teachers approach them with even when the principal would like to do so. Sometimes, days or even months pass before a spark the teacher generated in an earlier meeting with the principal leads to a resolution that neither the teacher nor the principal had previously considered;
  10. Principals are put off by faculty or staff who appear to be slackers or clock watchers;
  11. Principals expect follow through when they ask a teacher to do something. Unfortunately, some teachers think ignoring this expectation and begging for forgiveness later is cute and acceptable; however, it is often a sure way for the teacher to get his name on the “poop list.” When the principal asks a teacher to do something, he expects it to be done whether the teacher agrees or not. The only exception to following a principal’s directive is if his request is unethical or morally wrong; then the teacher has every right to balk;
  12. Principals expect teachers to handle the majority of the discipline issues in their classroom. Unfortunately, some teachers see this as the principal trying to avoid doing his job. However, any teacher worth his salt knows classroom management is the responsibility of the teacher. If kids were robots, teaching would be easy, but when the robots are programed with personalities and brain waves, the difficulty of the teaching task changes dramatically. Learning to manage personalities and focus the brain on learning is the teacher’s responsibility, administrators are there to support teachers with interruptions they cannot handle on their own, but they are not there to take over the daily classroom management for the teacher;
  13. Sometimes it is hard for principals to have empathy for teachers who moan about long hours, especially when the principal logged eighty hours Monday through Saturday of the previous week working at the school and supervising extra-curricular activities. It is exhausting and unfortunate, but working long hours goes with the territory for all educators!
  14. Principals create new programs and policies each year not to make things harder or give teachers more to do, but because they understand there is always room for improvement. One of the worst things that can happen to a school is for the actions of the faculty, support staff, and even the administration to become stale or complacent; and
  15. Principals care about kids just as much as teachers do!

This list of 15 is only scratching the surface, but regardless of what is said in support of principals, some teachers will never change their perceptions of them. Nonetheless, principals do far more than drink coffee all day, take two hour lunch breaks, and sit around and think of ways to make teachers miserable just as teachers do a whole lot more than talk to kids or watch them color all day, and then go home and count their money. As a former principal, I will not hesitate to say that other than the students, the teachers are the most important people in the school. But, as a former teacher, I must admit that until I walked in the shoes of a principal, I had no idea how valuable the principal was to the overall success of the school and to my success as a teacher. There are three roles schools depend on more than any other for success: the role of the student, the role of the teacher, and the role of the principal. Without students there is no school; without teachers there is no learning; without principals there is no order.

JL

©Jack Linton, April 6, 2015

What Makes a Good Teacher?

By the number and content of the education bills that have been flying back and forth in the 2015 Mississippi Legislative session, it is easy to see that many of our legislators have little respect for teachers in the state. Much of their lack of respect for educators can be attributed to political agendas and a superhero complex. Politically they tend to ride on the coattails of whatever wind happens to be blowing at the time, and lately the fashionable political gale is education bashing. The other fashionable political trend is the superhero complex that so many of our elected officials have adopted. Too many of them think they have a super-sized “S” stamped on their chest, and all they need do to right any perceived problems is to huff and puff and legislate the problems away, especially in education. They believe that they alone are the saviors who can save the state from ill prepared, incompetent, diabolical teachers. However, when it comes to education, the vast majority of legislators likely do not have a clue about education other than what they hear in Walmart or in their church parking lot. Their negative perceptions of education are generally fueled more by personal experiences, experiences of family members, and public opinion than test scores or poor rankings. Unfortunately, sometimes these experiences and opinions are not the hogwash educators would like to attribute to them; sometimes they do have merit no matter how isolated the experience might be. It is unfortunate, but there are some weak teachers out there who give teachers including the good ones a bad name. Fortunately, there are many more good teachers than the handful of bad apples who get all the press and attention.

Like any other profession, education has people who need to be weeded out; they do not have the aptitude to teach, they do not have the knowledge to teach, they do not have commitment to teach, nor do they have the work ethic to teach. It is easy to be a teacher, but it is not easy to be a GOOD teacher. To be a good teacher, it takes a lot of hard time consuming work! For whatever reason, there is a mindset in our society today that teaching is an easy job anyone can do. It is unbelievable, but so many people think of teaching as little more than standing in front of a bunch of kids and talking or watching them color? If that was all there was to it, anyone could do it, but it takes more – a lot more. To be a good teacher a person must be motivated, committed, and driven to do what is best for children. To be a good teacher, an individual must also have the courage to stand alone against a society that seemingly takes pleasure in branding them as incompetent and self-serving. So, what could possibly motivate an individual with an advanced degree or degrees to subject himself/herself on a daily basis to such ridicule and disrespect? Why do smart people continue to work in a profession where they are not appreciated? The answer is they are professionals, they love children, they are working for the kids not the adults, and they are GOOD at what they do!

Until someone proves me wrong, I believe good teachers are the norm in education rather than the exception. Of course, there are some teachers who are better than others, but that is true in any profession. But, what makes one teacher better than another teacher? Maybe, it is that some teachers are not satisfied with just being good; they want to be the best. Maybe, the teachers who really set the standard for the profession are not satisfied that their students pass; they expect them to excel! Whatever the reason, the common denominator for all GOOD teachers is they CARE for their students, their colleagues, and their profession. They have high expectations of their students, of their colleagues, of their profession, and most of all they have high expectations of themselves. They refuse to settle for anything less. If every teacher had these traits, education naysayers would have little fuel to feed their negativism against teachers and the profession. Regrettably, that is not the case, so good teachers continue to be pulled down by a handful of misfits. That is a shame since Mississippi has so many good teachers trying to do what is right for kids.

What does a good teacher look like? Without fail I always found GOOD teachers have common characteristics that make them special – that make them not just teachers but good even great teachers. I have observed that good teachers are personally motivated to be the best teacher they can possibly be. They understand that it is their responsibility to teach and ensure children learn in their classrooms; they are driven personally and professionally by the success of their students.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Good teachers have high expectations for their students;
  2. Good teachers rarely miss a day from school;
  3. Good teachers understand education is all about LEARNING; teaching is simply a means to kick start the process;
  4. Good teachers truly believe all children can learn; they are committed to making learning happen in their classrooms;
  5. Good teachers do not teach sitting behind their desk. They understand that learning is an ACTIVE activity not a passive activity. Good teachers are up moving around and working with kids; they are engaged in learning with the kids;
  6. Good teachers never give up on their students;
  7. Good teachers are committed to being learners themselves. Good teachers are READERS – both professionally and personally;
  8. Good teachers understand that all children do not learn in the same way or in the same time;
  9. Good teachers do not work in isolation. Professional collaboration is essential to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom;
  10. Good teachers understand that instruction is not “gut” driven, but rather “data” and “research” driven;
  11. Good teachers don’t check or send email or grade papers on student time. Student time is anytime there are students in the classroom;
  12. Good teachers respect children for who they are – not for who they want them to be;
  13. Good teachers understand that misbehavior in the classroom is a behavior/choice issue and not a personal issue directed at them;
  14. Good teachers do not waste students’ time with busy work;
  15. Good teachers provide feedback on student work including classwork, homework, and tests;
  16. Good teachers always come to class prepared;
  17. Good teachers make lessons relevant to their students;
  18. Good teachers do not argue with students in their classroom;
  19. Good teachers are not afraid to try new teaching methods or to take risks;
  20. Good teachers teach day to day routines beginning day one;
  21. Good teachers understand the culture behind the status quo, but they are never satisfied with it;
  22. Good teachers do not expend energy on the negative; good teachers spend very little time with negative people;
  23. Good teachers understand when they sign their contracts . . .
    1. they are signing on for inadequate pay for the job they are expected to do;
    2. they are signing on for overcrowded classrooms;
    3. they are signing on for hours of thankless time away from their families;
    4. they are signing on to be evaluated by an evaluation process with little relevance to what actually happens in the classroom;
    5. they are signing on to be evaluated by principals and/or assistant principals who often do not have a clue as to what they should be looking for in the classroom and who look at evaluations as something to be checked off their “to do” list rather than a tool to actually help the teacher;
    6. they are signing on to be led by a superintendent whose politics and political competency are often more important than what he/she knows about instruction and learning;
    7. they are signing on to ensure children learn to the best of their ability, and to that end “1 – 6” above do not really matter.

Good teachers believe the journey as a teacher is worth taking. They believe their journey can make a difference in the lives of the children they teach, and they pray it makes a difference in them as well. Good teachers understand that for learning to take place in the classroom, the teacher must be mentally and physically involved. Finally, good teachers understand the way to shut the naysayers up is to prove them wrong daily.   To do that, they understand they must be good teachers everyday not just some days. They understand . . .

  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love kids;
  • You cant be a good teacher sitting on your butt;
  • You can’t be a good teacher worrying about your paycheck;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love your profession;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t prepared;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to ensure your students learn; and
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you think teaching is about you.

To be a good teacher, teachers must believe in their kids and themselves. After all, that is all that really matters in the classroom.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 17, 2015

What are Reeves and His Buddies in Jackson Smoking?

This past week Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves once again expressed his objection to the amount of money school districts spend on central office administrators and school principals. Apparently, he believes if districts spent less money on administration the need for fully funding education would be far less urgent since money spent on administrators could be funneled into the classroom. That is all well and good if it was not just another political smokescreen designed to confuse and divide. Honestly with all the smoke coming out of Jackson lately, I am beginning to wonder what they are smoking up there. I am not saying that administrative costs do not need to be looked at, but if Reeves would spend some time in the shoes of school administrators or at least talk to them, he might at least change the filter on whatever it is he and his Republican buddies are puffing.

If there are school districts that are top heavy with administrators as Reeves claims, those districts are the exception to the rule. Most school districts in Mississippi operate with minimum administrative support. At the school level there are many schools that operate with one school principal and maybe one assistant principal, and if the school is an elementary school, the odds are there is only a principal and no assistant principal. Of course Mr. Reeves would argue that is the way it should be, but he has never tried to manage a school on his own or be an instructional leader, arbitrate faculty /staff disagreements, be a fair and consistent disciplinarian, offer counsel and guidance to kids, be a psychologist, function as a surrogate parent, act as school test coordinator, be the school technology guru, mediate faculty/parent conferences, direct after school programs, attend special school events/extra-curricular activities, and maintain some semblance of balance with his own family all in the space of one day. I am not saying he is not a busy man, but I am saying few people understand what busy means until they have spent time as a school principal.

Most principals arrive at school between 6:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and put in 10 to 12 hour days before they can even think about going home to their families. If they are a high school principal or high school assistant principal, they usually do not get home until somewhere between 10:00 p.m. and midnight five nights out of every week due to supervising sports, concerts, academic events, and other after school activities. If Reeves has his way and the number of administrators is cut, who will work all those extra hours that are necessary to provide a quality educational experience for children? It is not humanly possible for one administrator to adequately fulfill all the expectations placed on a school administrator by the school, the district, the state, the teachers, the students, the parents, and the community! My guess is that Reeves and his buddies think any administrative responsibilities that one principal cannot get to during the school day can be dumped on teachers who are already maxed out to their limits? You can only pile so much on school administrators and teachers before they break and tell the state to take the job and stick it where the sun does not shine. I am not so sure Mr. Reeves understands that, but again, maybe he does.

Another thing Reeves and his buddies in Jackson fail to understand is that every time they pass a piece of education legislation adding a new program or policy because it sounds like a good idea to them or they are delivering on a favor, they are creating a need for additional administrators to monitor compliance. Monitoring compliance just about always falls directly on the shoulders of the busiest people in the school district – the school principal or the assistant principal if the school is lucky enough to have one. When additional duties are added to the table and nothing is taken off the table, it stands to reason there will be a greater need for additional administrators. The Lieutenant Governor can look at the bulging bureaucracy of state government and see that is true. So, if he wants fewer school administrators, he should do everything within his power to steer legislators away from legislation that will create a need for additional administrative help.

Also, if Mr. Reeves is truly concerned about overly excessive administrative costs in the state, maybe he and the Governor should take a long hard look at the excess in their own backyards. How many hundreds or thousands of state government administrators are currently sucking Mississippi dry? While pointing fingers at school districts as being administratively top heavy, Reeves has at least six administrative positions on his personal staff, and the Governor has at least thirty administrators and administrative assistants on his staff.  Attorney General, Jim Hood heads up 31 divisions all with directors and various other administrative positions. Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, has a staff of 110+; State Auditor, Stacey Pickering, has a staff of 125+; and State Treasurer, Lynn Fitch, has a staff of at least 40. These examples packaged with other state elected and appointed administrative positions and their administrative support staffs as well as affiliated local bureaus and commissions provide a clearer picture of where administrative excess actually lies in Mississippi. Not counting elected positions, there are 136 state government agencies in Jackson which are manned by directors, commissioners, assistant directors, deputy directors, assistant commissioners, deputy commissioners, administrative support staff, and clerical support staff. I believe I am safe when I say few if any of them are called on daily to be a mama or daddy to another person’s child, a mentor, an academic leader, a minister, a friend, a believer, a hall and restroom monitor, a janitor, a cheerleader, a bureaucratic paper pusher, a punching bag for political gain, a passive crap dump for abusive parents, a chauffeur when there is no one to take a child home after a game, as well as a mama, daddy, and husband/wife to their own family, and all of that in a twenty-four hour day.

The only thing that may be top heavy about school administrators are the hearts beating in their chests – hearts that like the hearts of teachers do not deserve to be stepped on and ground in the dirt by power hungry politicians who have shown little support or compassion for Mississippi public school educators during the 2015 Mississippi State Legislative session. Unfortunately, as long as smoke boils from the war pipes of state legislators, state educators will continue to suffer. Who knows what they are smoking in those pipes or why, but whatever it is it is not good for the future of Mississippi. I would say “shame on you” to state legislators for what they are doing to public education in Mississippi, but it seems shame is a badge too many of them are wearing with pride these days.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 8, 2015

Let the Craziness Begin

Recently I read an article about the steps some schools take to ensure students do well on state standardized tests. Most of the steps mentioned sounded reasonable such as reminding parents to be sure to send their children to bed early the night before the test and staging academic pep rallies to motivate students to do their best on the tests. However, some of the measures came across as a bit extreme such as not allowing restroom toilets to be flushed during testing. As a former high school principal and district test coordinator, I can understand the reasoning behind such an extreme measure though I find it overkill even for my taste. But, I can’t blame a principal for considering going to such extremes, especially when so much is riding on state tests. Student performance on the tests impacts school ratings and rankings as well as job security for the principal and teachers. It would take a very foolish principal not to engage in strategies that might help students be successful on state tests even if those strategies might be a bit extreme.

During my years as a high school principal, I also put in place various testing strategies, but after looking back over the strategies I used, talking to current school principals, and doing some research, I discovered I was not as innovative as I thought. Today’s principals may not be “rocket scientists,” but when it comes to test strategy innovations they certainly rock! I would be hard pressed to keep up with some of the innovative thinking used by the men and women leading schools today, so I started asking myself what I would do differently if I was a principal preparing my school for testing in 2015. As a result, I developed a list of strategies organized as Pre-Test Day Strategies, Test Day Strategies, and Post Day Strategies. Through my experience as a principal and district test coordinator, research into testing strategies, and discussions with other principals, I am convinced these strategies if followed have the potential to guarantee that all students pass the state test.

Pre-Test Day Strategies:

  1. JANUARY: Pump classical music into all classrooms, hallways, cafeteria, field house, gym and everywhere students may gather. Classical music has been shown to reduce anxiety and tension associated with stress;
  2. JANUARY: Rearrange student schedules so they meet in a different classroom every day. According to the research, movement forces the brain to form new associations with the same materials and results in creating a stronger memory. Studying the same stuff in a different place every day makes forgetting information less likely;
  3. JANUARY: Hypnotize all students! Beginning with the second Monday in January, schedule hypnosis sessions for all students who will be tested. Through hypnosis the conscious and subconscious mind work closer together; this makes it possible to retain information faster than normal. If the hypnosis does not work, all students will be taught the power of positive affirmation. Repeat after me, “I am a beast. I am a testing beast. I am a focused testing beast. My mind is clear of everything but the test. I have the power within me to will myself to victory over this test.” Everyone knows the only thing that trumps preparation is believing you can do it;
  4. FEBRUARY: Proper diet is important to learning, and fish heads are highly regarded worldwide as a brain food. Therefore, mandate the school cafeteria serve at least one daily serving of fish heads at breakfast and/or lunch beginning in February. For students with weak stomachs, fish oil capsules can be substituted;
  5. MARCH: Teachers cannot introduce any new material after spring break. Of course, since the focus switches from learning to testing in January, this will have already happened in most classes;
  6. APRIL: Hold an academic pep rally the day before the test to get the adrenalin flowing for the next day; and
  7. APRIL: Require all students to shave their heads as a sign of commitment and servitude to the tests.

Test Day Strategies:

  1. Research indicates caffeine-filled drinks keep us alert, so all students will be pumped full of caffeine the day of the test. Parent volunteers will start the day by serving hot cocoa and coffee on school buses. Cafeterias will serve chocolate milk, coffee, tea, and chocolate donuts with the school breakfast. After morning roll call, all students will report to the gym where they will be served Coke, tea, and chocolate chip cookies. Access to water will be denied until all testing is completed;
  2. Youth ministers from local churches will be brought in to pray and mediate with students before the test;
  3. Students will be served red grades before and during the test. There are claims that red grapes stimulate brain cells for higher brain function although I have doubts as to how effective this one time feeding frenzy might be;
  4. Anyone entering the school building on test days must wear soft sole slippers. Wearing slippers has been proven to help ease stress, and slippers are also great for reducing noise on tile flooring;
  5. No announcements over the PA (public address) system can be made during testing. Of course, students are so attuned to their classes being regularly interrupted by the PA system or telephones such a strategy might pose a problem for some students;
  6. Place the school under lockdown on test days. Have the National Guard on alert and armed guardsmen stationed at each entrance to the school;
  7. As students enter the testing room, each student will be given a special charm such as a rabbit foot, chicken/turkey wishbone, or amulet to rub for good luck during the test;
  8. All students will be required to soak their feet in ice water thirty minutes prior to the test to ensure they are alert and ready for the test;
  9. Classical music will be pumped into the testing rooms to help relieve test anxiety;
  10. The library will be closed during testing to avoid the potentially disruptive rustle of pages or books being closed too loudly; and
  11. Of course, portable toilets will be set up outside the building so flushing toilets will not disrupt tests.

Post-Test Day Strategies:

  1. Although teachers and students will be eager to get back to work once the tests are completed, all instruction will be canceled for two weeks after the last test is administered, so students and teachers can relax and celebrate the tests are over;
  2. Extra counselors will be brought in after the tests to deal with student PTSS (post-test stress syndrome); and
  3. Wine and cheese will be served in the teachers’ lounge to help teachers deal with PTSS syndrome.

Of course, I may be leaving out some innovative strategies, but overall I believe this list is an excellent start. If these strategies are followed, I am positive students will not only experience a 100% pass rate, but they will see a dramatic increase in their individual test scores as well. However, unless there is a significant change in the testing process, the single best strategy with the best chance of success might be to shut school down after Christmas and only require students to show up for field trips, extra-curricular activities, cram days, and test days! Everyone would be a lot less stressed, and there would be little if any significant change in test results.

Regardless of what strategies are put into place, I want to wish all students good luck and extend a big thank you to all teachers, administrators, and parents for hanging in there as the craziness begins!

JL

©Jack Linton, January 11, 2015