Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays!

From all of us at Solon High School we wish you a very happy holiday season!

Here are pics from the winners of our office ugly sweater contest!  

Congrats to Eli DeWitt, Patrick McGill, and Ally Moore.  Each received an iTunes gift card courtesy of the high school PTO.

Everyone joined in the fun!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Students Drop Flour From Airplane to Study Physics

I'm proud to work in a school where innovative lessons and great teaching happen everyday.  Recently, students in Shawn Cornally's Phyics class "took to the sky" to engage in learning an essential concept.  You can read more about it in Mr. Cornally's blog post.  It was also covered by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.  

Each year a local aviation group offers a scholarship to a high school student.  One of our seniors won the scholarship a few years ago and has his pilot's license.  So when the students suggested this activity, Mr. Cornally jumped on the opportunity to take learning to new heights (pun intended).

Then, over the horizon, came the plane with it's payload.  If you look closely, you can see the flour hit the ground.  

However, the calculations were off.  A quick call to the pilot and an adjustment for speed, the class eagerly awaited the last attempt.  

I commend Shawn, and all teachers, that look for innovative ways to challenge students to apply their learning.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Local Meets Global – Connecting Area Students to Future Careers

Written by Nanci Young, Workplace Learning Connection
Kirkwood Community College

You can’t contemplate the future without considering the impact of science, technology, engineering and math in our everyday experiences, especially in our jobs.  Students in high school will be facing far different workplace demands than their parents.  And, our middle school and elementary school population need to be prepared for jobs that don’t even exist today!  The 34 school districts within the Grant Wood Area Education Agency Area 10, including Solon Community Schools, are partnering with Workplace Learning Connection (WLC) to not only ride the wave of STEM careers, but to get in front of the demand by providing work-based learning opportunities for their students.   

Area high school students are job shadowing in STEM careers and participating in class-credit student internships at area STEM businesses.  Local professionals employed in STEM careers are hosting worksite tours and going to elementary, middle and high school classes to speak to students about their careers.  To date, WLC has connected students to STEM careers over 850 times this school year.

Chemistry teacher, Jennifer Brown, Kennedy High School, explains why STEM education experiences are so important, STEM careers are growing quickly and if we don’t produce students to fill those positions, they will be lost to employees outside the US. Students are often unaware of the number and scope of options available to them, so it is important to increase their exposure.  By working with WLC, we have access to the large number of connections that they have developed with the community.”

Sarah K from Xavier High School talks about her job shadow experience at St. Luke’s Hospital, “I think that it was really important for me to actually see what an occupational therapist gets to do. I learned exactly what kind of work the job entailed, what kind of training I would need, and what the market looked like for those skills. This experience will definitely help me in selecting my major in the next couple of years.” 

Claire T, Linn-Mar High School student, shadowed a physical therapist, “I learned about the different types of physical therapy, and shadowed one kind.  It made me really interested to find out more about the rest! It has interested me to take more science classes and keep pushing towards this career path!”

Pete Kies, Lab Technician from Genencor International, explains why he participates in work-based learning activities, “I enjoy my work and I like being able to tell the kids that there are some cool jobs out there, if you have the skills and the knowledge to qualify for them.”

STEM touches a wide variety of career fields, over 75 of them explored this year through WLC’s job shadows, internships and events.   These fields span five different pathways and include careers like veterinarians and ag mechanics (Agriscience and Natural Resources), graphic designers (Arts and Communications), accountants, computer engineers and web designers (Business, Information Technology, Marketing and Management), machinists, aerospace engineering, and skilled trades (Engineering, Industrial and Technical Sciences), and dieticians, EMT’s and dermatologists (Health Sciences).

The need for STEM career education opportunities continues to grow.  This fall, Governor Brandstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds commissioned a STEM Advisory Council to grow Iowa’s commitment to bolstering STEM education, STEM innovation and to better position Iowa’s young people and the state’s economy for the future.  Workplace Learning Connection plays a role in this initiative by providing STEM career experiences to K-12 students and instructors in this area’s 7-county region.  To learn how to be a part of this wave of education, innovation and economic development, go to or become a fan of WLC’s Facebook page,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meet Auggie

You may have heard from students about a dog in the building.  Auggie, a 145 pound Newfoundland, is a therapy dog.  Michelle Hand, Auggie's owner, has been taking him to local schools and hospitals to work with a variety of people.  She has partnered with our MECCA counselor to provide services at Solon High School.  It is a joy when he comes and all students benefit from his presence!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why do I need to know this?

That question can often be heard in the classrooms of Solon High School.  Our staff is quick to not only answer, but give students real-life, authentic learning experiences.

In the first video, students are using bubbles to investigate the permeability of cell walls.  This lab further demonstrated the properties of cells and cell membranes and gave the kids a hands-on learning experience.

In a Project Lead the Way course, students used computer programs to evaluate the effectiveness of their robots.  This measured energy consumption, speed, and other factors.  Students were analyzing the data.  

Finally, Spanish students were speaking to students in Mexico through Edmodo, an online and educational social media tool.  This allowed our students to have authentic speaking experiences with native Spanish speakers.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Win or lose, we all are champions!

Here at Solon, we know a thing or two about being a champion.  With 4 state football titles from 2007-2010 along with many other state titles in sports and music, our student athletes know how to win.  So when our girls made the state volleyball tournament for the first time in school history, our student body was geared for another championship.

But when the final match ended, our girls, and our school were in new territory...we lost.

As a school leader, you hope your school has a culture that supports each and every person.  My hope was validated all season long as our student body rallied around each other.  The band played with heart, our students cheered, and we showed that no matter the score, we are all winners.

This is our school.

We are Solon.

And all of our students are champions!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Creating A Sense of Urgency for Grade Reform

This article was initially published on Nov. 3, 2011 at  You can access the link to the article here.  

For those of us working in the trenches in education to overhaul grading practices, the recent Educational Leadership journal from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is a timely publication.  Each article is dedicated to providing information about effective grading practices.  The journal implies (actually it SHOUTS) the fact that grading practices are not effective in our schools. 

So what can we do as educational leaders to fix the grading problem?  First, we have to acknowledge that the current system for grading students is broken.  Let me share with you an example from our school.  A student in a high school class recently scored poorly on an assignment.  Here is the email he sent to the teacher.

Dear Teacher,
I was wondering if there was a time we could meet. Before, after, or even seminar during school. When I turned in my [assignment], you just said I needed more. I would like to go over it and get some more feedback from you. I feel like I could be a better student. I would like to get more feedback and work through it with you. 
Concerned Student
His grade on this assignment gave no feedback on learning targets that were mastered and those that were not.  This student was left with a feeling of unease and wants to know what he can do to improve.  If this is a student in your school, you need to act now to prevent this from happening to other learners.  
Below is a list of things you can do as a school leader to move your school toward more effective grading practices.
  •  Start with assessments.  Teachers in our building are working on creating common assessments that are tied to essential learning targets.  When teachers discuss and create assessments, they have ownership of the learning target.  Then, when an assessment is given, it allows the teacher to focus on the feedback from students to help guide instruction.  The ultimate goal is for teachers to focus on student learning rather than simply teaching the concept. 
  • Effective grading is about effective student learning.  Share that message often with all stakeholders.  Feedback is critical to the learning process. 
  • Share articles with the teachers to improve their understanding of effective grading practices.  We utilize a Google doc to share articles and to gather input to allow all voices to be heard. 
  •  Create grading guidelines for your district and have your board adopted that as local policy.
  • Start a book study group with staff.  We started by reading Checking for Understanding by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey or Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli. 

As Thomas Guskey stated, we can’t allow ourselves to say, “We’ve always done it that way.”  Our school is taking on this challenge.  Is yours?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vocal students participate in all day jazz workshop

On Friday, October 28th, Solon High School vocal jazz students participated in an extraordinary master class with famed musician Michele Weir. Michele is often featured as guest vocalist at educational jazz festivals and is a former member of the Grammy-nominated vocal group, The PM Singers.  Michele's vocal arrangements are performed by The Manhattan Transfer, New York Voices, The Swingle Singers, M-Pact, Beachfront Property, Chanticleer, Voice Trek and her orchestral works played by the Boston Pops, the Buffalo, Cincinnati and Pacific Symphonies, and others. 

She was Vocal Producer for the Manhattan Transfer¹s 2009 CD release, Chick Corea Songbook, and her arrangements or compositions have been featured on the Shari Lewis TV show, Disney's 101 Dalmations Sing-along CD, and the Holland America Cruise line.Michele is one of the leading figures in vocal jazz today. She has earned international recognition through a diverse set of talents as arranger, teacher, singer and pianist.
Currently serving on the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Michele taught previously at USC, CSU Long Beach, and the Phil Mattson School. Highly respected as a teacher and clinician, her work has taken her to more than 22 countries around the globe.

During the master class, students received the opportunity to participate in vocal improvisation, ear training, and scat singing.  Several students also sang solos for the class and were critiqued one-on-one with Michele.  Two of the vocal jazz ensembles performed one of their selections and were critiqued as well.  Michele also provided foundations in jazz history, guided listening, and gave a long lasting, passionate session on life as a musician.  In the end, students were treated to a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with one of the leading musicians in jazz today.  The Solon program is fortunate to have such experiences and would like to thank Solon Spotlight for making this day possible!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moving Education Forward

Moving is horrible.  For any of you that have moved lately, you know what I'm talking about.  To me, moving is an abomination.  It took me 6 weeks to find my son's shoes and I know there are still things hidden in a box somewhere.  However, the process of moving from one's house is much less daunting than moving a whole system. 

How do we move forward in education?

  • For starters, we have to acknowledge the fact that there is no "moving company" to hire in education.  You have to pack the boxes and do the heavy lifting yourself.  
  • In order for change to happen, we need to confront the fact that the "educational house" we built no longer meets the needs of our students.  
  • It will take everyone in the neighborhood to help with the move.  This must be a community effort. Author Jamie Vollmer has a book titled Schools Cannot Do It Alone.  I highly recommend his book, especially for those that have been out of school for awhile.  
  • Change begins with the students.  I have a student principal advisory group that meets with me monthly to give feedback on school policy and general happenings in our school.  Thanks kids,  I listen!  And remember, I work for you!
  • No longer can learning be confined to the four walls of our schoolhouse.  Lets extend opportunities in the workplace, provide kids with college credit and/or certifications in a job related field prior to graduation.
  • We need to change grading practices to improve student learning.  Schools need to develop better assessments that provide feedback to both the teacher and student.
Will that get us to where we want to go?  What else would you add?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Student Voice Video Contest

Students I encourage you to participate in this contest!

You can also watch the promotional video here.  

1. Get a team

2. Think of some ideas
Not sure where to start? Take a look at these idea-starters to help you get thinking:
  • What would make school awesome? How would you set up the structure of learning so that you couldn’t wait to get there everyday?
  • Tell us about a time you lost track of time learning something new. Maybe you were practicing a physical or musical skill or spent hours trying to understand a complex science or math concept. Maybe you had a great time researching an idea or person that you admire or built or fixed something with your own hands. Whatever it was, you worked hard and you did it! You stretched yourself, learned a lot and felt that rush of accomplishment. How could school be set up so that kind of learning happened all day for everyone?
  • Imagine there has never been a thing called school – ever before – and the community decided today that we needed to help young people prepare for adult life. What would you need to learn? Where would the best learning take place? Who should do the teaching?  How would it work?
3. Submit your video by midnight on Nov. 2

4. Be sure to follow the rules.  

Win some cash!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What class would you choose?

I need to write more about the fantastic work our teachers do on a daily basis.  They rock!  Their work is dedicated, their hearts are genuine, and they come to school everyday giving their best.

But what do they do when the kids aren't in school?

And why do teachers need professional development anyway?

Take a look at this picture.  It shows two classes.  Class A and Class B.  In orange are two columns of descriptors of those classes.  In black, are questions I posed to the teachers.

  • What class would you want to attend?
  • What class would you want your own child to have?
  • Which class do you think students at Solon High School would choose?
These questions sparked our learning for the day.  Teachers worked collaboratively in departments to analyze their curriculum in grades 9-12.  After alignment, we then focused on creating assessments that matched those essential concepts.  

However, at the end of the day, I asked them to think again about these two classrooms.  If we have great content and great assessments but students have a lack of ownership, then where does that leave our students?  Our discussion will continue next time as we begin to look at standards based grading and informing our students more along a continuum of the learning process.  

What class would you choose?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weekly Update October 3, 2011

Education Blueprint for Iowa Reform

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Department of Education Director Jason Glass have released their education blueprint for Iowa education reform.  As part of my commitment to innovation, I plan to work with SCSD staff to be a leader in this reform movement.

Here are some of the areas for suggested in the report:

  • Attract and support talented educators with an increase in starting teacher pay, more selective teacher preparation programs and improved recruiting and hiring practices.
  • Create educator leadership roles in schools and develop a meaningful peer-based evaluation system that requires annual and multiple evaluations of all educators.
  • Develop a four-tier teacher compensation system with Apprentice, Career, Mentor and Master levels and substantial pay raises for teachers who move up. Add other options for increasing teacher pay, such as work in extended day or year programs.
  • Establish a definition of educator effectiveness and tie job protections to an evaluation system based on this definition.
  • Free up principals from some managerial tasks to lead and support great teaching.
  • Improve and expand the Iowa Core to put Iowa’s standards on par with the highest-performing systems in the world.
  • Develop an assessment framework that includes measuring whether children start kindergarten ready to learn and high-stakes End-of-Course assessments for core subjects in high school. Have all Iowa 11th graders take a state-funded college-entrance exam.
  • Provide value-added measures for all districts, schools, grades and educators that take into account student background characteristics and consider student growth.
  • Seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law and work with key education groups and leaders statewide to design a new accountability system.
  • Ensure children learn basic literacy by the end of third grade with high-quality reading programs, supports for schools and students, and an end to social promotion for third-graders who read poorly.
  • Nurture innovation with funding for transformative ideas, greater statutory waiver authority for the Iowa Department of Education and pathways to allow for high-quality charter schools in Iowa.
  • Create a state clearinghouse of high-quality online courses available to any student in Iowa, and back the courses with licensed teachers and the best online learning technology available.
  • Set goals for student outcomes, including a 95 percent high school graduation rate and top statewide performance on national standardized assessments.

Click here for a copy of the report

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Solon Schools use Social Networking Sites as Tools

Image: tungphoto /

Social media in schools has been a hot topic lately.  Some schools and states are blocking sites and discouraging teachers and students to interact online.  However, our school embraces social media as a teaching tool and we plan to revise our policy to encourage that interaction.  It takes the classroom outside the "four walls" of the building.  Thanks to KCRG news for running the story and highlighting the progressive practices at Solon CSD.   

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, I encourage you to leave your thoughts below.  


Monday, September 19, 2011

Week of Sept. 19

POW/MIA Recognition Day

Solon High School was the site of POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, September 16.  Nine veterans and their guests attended an event at the media center sponsored and organized by the VA Medical Clinic in Iowa City.  Their stories of inspiration were amazing to hear!  Students in history class got to hear firsthand accounts of imprisonment from the veterans.

Here are some pictures from the day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

No Office Day

I was working late yesterday when our custodian came in and asked if I would be staying all night.  I told him that tomorrow was my "No Office Day" and he thought that meant that I would be on the golf course for the day.  While spending the day on the course would be a nice respite from the hectic life of a school principal, I informed him that I would be out in classrooms all day.

I came across on Twitter that several principals and other school administrators would have "No Office Day" during the week of September 12.  I jumped at the opportunity to spend time in our classrooms.  My goal as an instructional leader is to ensure high quality instruction occurs on a daily basis.  In my experience, I have found that it is nearly impossible to do that while sitting in my chair in my office.

So, I look forward to spending my day in the halls, classrooms, and common areas talking and working with students.  We have a group of veterans coming to school today to work with history classes and I will be teaching 1 block of PE.

Most importantly, I won't be in my office.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Are you a teacher, or an educator?

Thanks to Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey, for posting this video on his blog

Week of September 12, 2011

Teaching 9/11

For those of us that watched in horror the events that unfolded ten years ago, remembering the victims and tragedy of 9/11 brings back strong emotions.  But what about teaching remembrance?  How do help students understand the implications of such an historically important topic?

Most of our students were young when the event happened and had little connection with world events.  Today students are having the chance to relive history in a meaningful way.  Students in history class are looking at iconic images from September 11, 2001.  The link for the photos can be found here.  Their task is to write a caption for the photo, explain their emotion, and state why the photo is significant to historians.  As I sat in class, I was proud of the discussion and reflection of our students.  The anger emotion was evident.  However, it is important to remember the needless loss of life.  Our hope is to teach future generations about incidents in the world and learning how to be tolerant of each other's differences.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A New Journey

"Everything I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten."

Remember that quote.  I can't help but think about that as I start a new journey in my career.

Moving from the halls of elementary to the halls of high school can be quite a change.  As an elementary principal, I couldn't walk down the halls or into a classroom without getting a high five, fist bump, or the occasional hug.  And while the high fives and fist bumps may continue at high school (to stay out of trouble) I plan to avoid the hugs.

Today, I am with the team at Solon CSD learning about the concepts of Professional Learning Communities.  The amount of information can be overwhelming at times (so is the thought of moving from an elementary setting to the high school setting).  However, I keep coming back to the same questions.

What are non-negotiable beliefs in K-12 schools?  What practices, regardless of the level, are best practice?  What common traits can Kindergarten teachers and Biology teachers share.  Below are my non-negotiable practices.

1. Collaboration is a must.  No longer can we in education allow "independent contractors" to work in our buildings.

2. The PLC structure is not something you "do".  It is who you are and what you believe in as a staff that drives your work.

3. WHAT MATTERS MOST must be prioritized in regards to students learning objectives.  Research shows that we would need to keep kids in a system that spans from K-22 instead of K-12 if we are to teach everything.

4. Assessment should be frequent and drive instructional decisions in the classroom.

5. Any school that claims its purpose is to help all students learn at high level then fails to create a system of interventions is preparing kids to fail.

To create a systematic process that ensures every child receives the additional time and support needed to learn at high levels is our goal.  Otherwise you have a lottery where kids succeed based on the "luck" of getting a good teacher.  

What are other non-negotiable K-12 school practices?