Thursday, December 6, 2012

Feeling like a "freshman" in the senior year

The senior year of high school needs to look and feel different for students.  The final year should be the capstone of a learning experience where seniors take college courses and experience career related training.  Seniors should spend more time outside the school making connections, learning how to succeed independently, and preparing for post-secondary training.

In fact, seniors need to feel more like freshman.

Below is an article written by Helaina Thompson, current Solon High School senior, detailing her experience.  Helaina benefits from post-secondary education opportunities (PSEO) where the school pays for her to take college level coursework.  The state allows for weighted funding so this is not an expense that burdens the school.

Shouldn't all of our seniors have an experience like this?

This article was written by Helaina Thompson, a 17 year-old studying physics.
On a typical day I’ll wake up around eight o’clock, drive to Kirkwood Community College (in Cedar Rapids, IA), sit in on a lecture or two, hit up the Kirkwood sushi bar for lunch, go to another class, relax and study on the beach, get in a few hours at work, drive home, eat dinner, then sleep.
Oh, and I’m a high school senior.
At the end of my junior year my principal and I sat down to discuss what my final year of high school would entail. I tentatively brought up the idea of doing some classes second semester at Kirkwood, expecting him to be less than enthused, as the school would be paying for these credits.
Instead, he proposed that I take as many classes as I felt necessary, and why not for the whole year? Not only would this be in my best interest academically, but I think he could sense that I wasn’t feeling another year of traditional high school and craved some change.
This brings me to my present situation: I spend my days learning at Kirkwood, collecting enough college credit to enter the University of Iowa next year as, credits-wise, a sophomore in college. I plan on majoring in physics, so the classes that I currently am or will be taking at Kirkwood are a mixture of gen-eds and more advanced science and math classes that will easily transfer.
Meanwhile, I’m making friends from all over the world and all walks of life, and utilizing my new-found, college student free time to work, volunteer, and focus on goals for my current classes and future education.
I’m not alone. My good friend, Rachel–technically still a junior in high school–is on the community college train too. Rachel is by far the most awesome, artistic person I know. She interns at a local photography business, makes her own clothing, and  instinctively draws things like this:
At the risk of sounding cliché, a career in art is Rachel’s destiny. For students like her it doesn’t necessarily make sense to, as Rachel puts it, “…go through the motions of high school” and not best prepare themselves for what will surely be an unconventional future.
“I’m not your typical student,” says Rachel, “I need a more individualized experience that high school just can’t offer.”1
Rachel plans to attend Kirkwood for three semesters, study abroad at the London College of Fashion for one semester, spend two years in the Iowa State design program, and finish the remainder of her education at a school of design. By gaining community college credit during her last two years of high school, Rachel will be able to start her career as an artist that much sooner, ideally allowing her success to begin at a younger age.
Rachel and I may be on completely different sides of the academic spectrum, but we have something significant in common: high school just doesn’t jive with us anymore.
It is incredibly frustrating to spend your entire day in a high school building, following policy, but not utilizing time in ways that are meaningful to your future and the person  you strive to be.
While the firm structure of high school may be beneficial to many students, I no longer need it. Why should I be sitting in a class, repeating and reviewing material I already have a grasp on, when I could be working more hours, reading new material, or serving meals to the underprivileged?
Rachel asks, “Why sit in home room, twiddling my thumbs? I should be outside taking photos or sewing a new dress – creating things to add to my portfolio.”
As much as I want to encourage providing high school students with an early college education, this post is by no means an attack on the traditional high school experience. High school is a fantastic environment for many students to learn and grow, to discover their talents, and to socialize with peers and the community.
However, I believe it is ever-so important to promote and offer college credit in high school for those students, like Rachel and myself, ready for more independence and  responsibility, eager to jump start their futures.
Plus, eating sushi daily is pretty great too.
1. Editorial Comment: It strikes the ITE staff that if a student is recognizing the fact that high school is poorly designed to offer individualized curriculum, couldn’t it be easily recognized by the entire community? Is this something that we all actually want to design into the structure of school? If so, what things go and what things stay? Bells? Courses? Teachers?
Here is a link to the original article posted to the Iowa TransformEd site.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Standards Based Grading: A conversation with admissions

Michael Barron Interview November 5, 2012
Assistant provost for enrollment management and director of admissions:  
I had the pleasure of visiting with Michael Barron at the University of Iowa Admissions Office.  We talked about our new assessment system and I asked him some questions about the college admissions process.  Mr. Barron spoke about the limited contact between K-12 and post-secondary institutions and how that relationship can be improved through conversations such as ours.  Italicized below are my notes summarizing the conversation. 
What is the reason for using the RAI (Regents Admission Index) for college admission?
The RAI index is a formulaic value comprised of standardized test scores (ACT, SAT), grade point average, class rank, and the number of courses taken in core curricular areas.   Michael was on the committee with the Board of Regents that adopted the use of the index.  It was noted through research on the committee that class rank and GPA, “added statistical value that we could not ignore” and therefore were included in the RAI.
How does the admissions process work for schools like Solon that does not use class rank?
We have “100 systems” of grading variance in any given year when we look at transcripts from high schools.  “When one is missing, the RAI is not used.  Instead, our staff reviews the academic record using a more holistic approach.  “We want to look at the whole child”. 
How familiar are you with standards based grading and assessment?
I was invited to Muscatine where they were discussing competency-based education.  However, most of my colleagues “do not know about competency-based education or the K-12 movement to common core standards.” 
I gave Mr. Barron and update on standards based grading at Solon High School.  What are your thoughts about our assessment system?
I see “no cause for alarm”.  We too are trying to use a more “holistic admission process.”  I also explained our reason for taking homework out of the grade.  “I don’t see a problem with that.”  He continued to say that as long as there is not a statistical increase or decrease in the distribution of grades, then our assessment system should not affect the admissions process. 
What is the best way for us (K-12) to communicate this to post-secondary institutions?
He suggested we look at a “profile” to send with our transcripts.  Colleges would benefit from some explanation/description of the change, describe the process, and characterize the methods of assessment for calculating grades.  Ultimately, post-secondary institutions would like to know that “you have removed variables that inflate grades.  We trust the grades from your high school represent learning.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Principal Evaluation Feedback

Purpose -Thank you to all of you that completed surveys regarding my performance as high school principal.  As always, it is a pleasure to serve the Solon Community School District.  Superintendent Miller will use the results of the survey as part of my principal evaluation.  This feedback is critical to my continued growth as a school administrator.  
Process- Surveys were collected and compiled based on results from 24 teachers, 6 classified staff, and 130 parents.  

Solon High School staff responded with favorable ratings in the following areas.  One area that I will continue to focus on is supporting and increasing student achievement through professional learning and development.  

Solon High School parents responded with favorable ratings in the following areas.  Through communication with parents and visibility in the community, I have worked to build trust and create a positive school culture.  

Area of Focus
Solon High School staff responded with ratings that indicate a need for improvement in the following areas.

Solon High School parents responded with ratings that indicate a need for improvement in the following areas.


Again, I would like to thank everyone for completing the survey.  One of my goals is to do a better job of including both staff and students more often in the decision-making process.  I have made some progress this school year with including our building leadership team on professional development planning for all teachers.  The leadership team and I meet six times a year to plan and implement our professional development goals.  Additionally, this team provides input on a variety of school issues.  
I plan to expand the role of the student principal advisory group to include more opportunities for student input and communication.  Additionally, I know I need to do be in classrooms more often.  I commit to being in the classrooms working with the students and staff for at least 5 hours/week.  This would also help students feel a stronger connection with the school principal.  
Another goal is to effectively handle problems that arise.  I will prioritize these issues daily.  I personally follow-up with every email and phone call that I receive.  I will encourage students and parents to work with their teacher before getting involved.  This helps the student and parents resolved their issues directly with the classroom teacher.  I will be encouraging parents to visit first with classroom teachers to resolve issues.
I will continue to be open and available for everyone.  If you have any questions about this data or any other school issues, please contact me at or by phone at 624-3401 ext. 1103.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Standards Based Grading

The topic of Standards Based Grading is a huge one.  It is much larger than we can tackle in a single newsletter, document or parent meeting.  My intention is to provide you with brief updates throughout the year to help you better understand SBG, our professional development activities, and our progress towards full implementation. 

Thank you to the parents that attend the first of six parent meetings to better inform you on grading practices at Solon High School.  Here is a link to the district resources page.  A video of the parent meeting sessions will be shared on the district resource page next week.   

Also, here is a link to the presentation that was shown during the parent meeting. 

 To begin with, let’s take a step backwards and look at the traditional grading system to see how it compares with Standards Based Grading in philosophy:

Traditional Grading System
Standards-Based Grading System

1.     Based on assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework, projects, etc.).  One grade/entry is given per assessment.
2.     Assessments are based on a percentage system.  Criteria for success may be unclear.
3.     Use an uncertain mix of assessment, achievement, effort and behavior to determine the final grade.  May use late penalties and extra credit.
4.     Everything goes in the grade book - regardless of purpose.
5.     Include every score, regardless of when it was collected.  Assessments record the average - not the best - work.

1. Based on learning goals and performance standards.  One grade/entry is given per learning goal.
2. Standards are criterion or proficiency-based.  Criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time.
3. Measures achievement only OR separates achievement from effort/behavior.  No penalties or extra credit given.
4. Selected assessments (tests, quizzes, projects, etc.) are used for grading purposes.
5. Emphasize the most recent evidence of learning when grading.
Adapted from O’Connor K (2002).  How to Grade for Learning: Linking grades to standards (2nd ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

As we began our studies, we found that the philosophy of SBG matched nicely with our belief in a system that focused on student learning and appropriately reporting that learning. 

Earlier in the year I shared the five grading guidelines, which teachers would begin implementing this fall. 
  1. Entries in the grade book that count towards the final grade will be limited to course or grade level standards.
  2. Extra credit will not be given at any time.
  3. Students will be allowed multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of classroom standards in various ways.  Retakes and revisions will be allowed.  
  4. Teachers will determine grade book entries by considering multiple points of data emphasizing the most recent data and provide evidence to support their determination.
  5. Students will be provided multiple opportunities to practice standards independently through homework or other class work.  Practice assignments and activities will be consistent with classroom standards for the purpose of providing feedback.  Practice assignments, including homework, will not be included as part of the final grade.

Throughout this school year, professional development will be provided for staff to insure that these guidelines are understood and implemented.  By the 4th quarter, teachers will have fully implemented SBG, according to the five guidelines, in at least one of their classes.  While full implementation of Standards Based Grading is not expected until the 2013-14 school year, many of our teachers began using SBG in all of their classes from the start of the school year.

An important step in our transition is to have the majority of staff fully implementing the SBG guidelines.  While I’ve been impressed with the number of staff that jumped in with both feet, there is still much learning ahead for all of us.  We are still working on more clearly defining the guidelines - to determine what fits and what does not .  We are still working on developing consistent classroom practices, not only across the building or grade level, but also within an individual classroom. 

Of the many challenges we face with our transition, perhaps the greatest is how to best report student learning to you, the parents, as well as the students themselves.  You’ll notice most teachers using a 4 point scale in a rubric format.  This works well for a students’ understanding of his or her progress on a given learning target, or standard.  This is an adjustment for parents, however, who are more familiar with traditional grading and homework/classwork grading.

We certainly welcome any questions you may have regarding Standards Based Grading.  In addition to your child’s classroom teacher, please feel free to contact Matt Townsley, Director of Instruction, or myself, with any questions you may have.  Again, we are committed to providing you timely updates throughout the year as we continue on our journey. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall Job Shadow Opportunities

Child Development/Child Life Program – University of Iowa, October 2, 2012, 9:45 a.m. - Noon
This experience allows students to learn more about child development and growth for children while they are in the hospital.  Students will learn how the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital staff helps children cope with their medical experiences and feel comfortable in a hospital setting.

Mini Police Academy Day- Cedar Rapids Police Department, October 4, 2012, 8:30-11:30 a.m.
You will get a tour of the facility and learn about a variety of careers in law enforcement.   Students will meet an officer from the Emergency Response Team, learn defense tactics that officers use on the street, meet with a Crime Scene Investigator, Police Officer, and Canine Officer.

Pathology- University of Iowa, October 5, 2012, 9am-Noon
Students will learn the role of a pathologist and a clinic laboratory scientist.  Students participate in a mock lab with a case study and 2 or 3 hands-on stations.  You will also receive a brief tour of the core chemistry/hematology labs at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Mini Police Academy Day – Marion Police Department, October 11, 2012, 9:00-11:00 a.m.    
At the Marion Police Mini Police Academy event you will receive a tour of the building, have a hands-on view of a police vehicle, an overview of the Bike Patrol unit, a demonstration by a tactical team member, and a visit from a detective and a police officer where you can learn more about their careers and ask questions.  The day will wrap up with possibly access to their firearms training simulator. 

Mini-Medical School – University of Iowa, October 17th2012, 12:30-3:00p.m.
If you are interested in a career in medicine, this is an event you won’t want to miss!  You will get to interact with patient actors who will simulate a patient case seen in a doctor’s office or hospital, have a tour of the medical school, learn about Case-Based Learning where you learn how to diagnose a patient, participate in an anatomy overview with current University of Iowa Student Ambassadors, and more! 

Music Day – West Music in Coralville, October 18, 2012, 10-11:30 a.m.
Students interested in careers of being a singer or musician will meet with Doug Ducey at West Music in Coralville.  Doug will share with students what to expect while climbing the stairway to stardom, provide information regarding careers in music, and give students the opportunity to ask questions related to what their career interest is.

Performing Arts Day – Theatre Cedar Rapids, October 18, 2012, 9-11 a.m.
Join the staff from Theatre Cedar Rapids in Cedar Rapids for a two hour ‘Introduction to the Theatre’.  Students will tour the theater, get a behind the scenes look at the play in progress and join in a discussion with several Theatre Cedar Rapids staff members about life and work in the theater arts.

Social Work Day – Systems Unlimited, Iowa City – October 26, 2012, 10-Noon
Learn more about careers in social work and human services from professionals in the areas of Supported Community Living, Employment Systems and Family Services.  Students will tour Systems Unlimited, a community non-profit agency serving children and adults with developmental disabilities and other health challenges.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First Annual: High School Hiatus

Solon High School had the first annual "High School Hiatus" today.  Regular classes were cancelled and students were able to take advantage of a much needed break.  Teachers have been collaborating for a couple weeks to offer games, movies, and other fun activities for students to enjoy.

The idea comes from Wartburg College's annual Outfly tradition.  Each year, students and college leaders select a day where classes are cancelled so students can enjoy socializing and building relationships with their peers.

Today, Mr. Wear enlisted the help of several eager seniors who ran through the halls announcing, "HIGH SCHOOL HIATUS!"  Seniors had permission to make as much noise as possible, bang on the doors, and disrupt the classrooms to announce the start of our hiatus.  Once the rest of the student body got over the shock of the announcement, the fun began!  The smiles and laughs were contagious.  Just another reason why our school has the best kids and staff.

We strive for students to remember all of our teachings but these are the times we never forget.

Card Games

Bunco Tournament

Bunco Tournament

The Spice Girls Music Video

Baking cupcakes

Big Bang Theory Marathon

Wii Games

Call of Duty
XBox Kinect- Just Dance
Chess Tournament
Chess Tournament
Gym Games

Bean Bags

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

World Book Night

World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. It is being held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. Tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks. 
Jeanne Hanes, a retired Solon Community School district teacher, applied and was accepted to be a World Book Night U.S. Book giver. She will be distributing a free paperback book, The Book Thief, to twenty of her former second grade students on April 23 in the high school media center.
    For more information :

Monday, March 5, 2012

March is "Risk Free Month of Teaching" at Solon High School

Below is a letter I sent to my staff today.  This idea comes from a colleague of mine that sent a similar letter to his staff.

Dear Solon High School Staff,
Today is the first full week of March which kicks off the “Risk Free Month of Teaching”. During the month, you are encouraged to explore an exercise, lab, or lesson plan which  you have not tried in the past. Research has shown that when a student or teacher takes a risk and attempts to stretch their knowledge, success of the risk is irrelevant. It is the learning process which makes us all grow.
Please take this month to grow your knowledge and strengthen your skills in your content area, pedagogy and/or with technology.  I fully support your efforts in trying something new. 

Success of your risk taking is not a factor, your effort and attempt is what matters most.

Best of luck and most important of all, have fun trying!

Oh, and have a great spring break!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Solon High School Welcomes Legislators to Open House

The Solon Community School District will host an open house for state legislators, media, and educators to observe standards-based instructional practices at Solon High School on Friday, February 10th at 12:15pm.  

The session will include a student and teacher panel, an observation of a standards-based lesson, and information on standards-based grading and competency-based education.  The state of Iowa is discussing competency-based education as part of Governor Branstad’s proposal for world-class schools.

For more information or if you are interested in attending, please call Solon High School.