Calling all MA Administrators: Attendance Coding Dilemma

This post may only appeal to the fellow administrators out there.  I’ll say that straight off the bat.

Let me start by explaining the context of the dilemma.  Schools in Massachusetts have to report attendance data to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education via electronic uploads at various times throughout the school year.  The Department has recently implemented a new accountability system that is outlined here.   The purpose of the new accountability system is to “provide clear, actionable information to families, community members, and the public about district and school performance.”  One of the multiple indicators that the department uses to calculate an overall score for each school is Chronic Absenteeism.  Chronic Absenteeism is defined as the “percentage of students missing 10 percent or more of the days they were enrolled at a given school during a school year.”  If you would like to find an explanation of all the indicators and/or an overview of the whole accountability system, please visit this page and download the documents entitled “system-1pager-indicators” and the “school-leaders-guide.”

The dilemma arises as most high school administrators will tell you is that it not unusual for a significant portion of your student body to be absent for at least 18 days a year.  The state counts all absences the same, whereas school policy usually distinguishes between “excused” and “unexcused.”  Most high schools in Massachusetts have policies that limit the number of unexcused absences and penalize students for exceeding that limit.  So while we do create policies to penalize excessive “unexcused” absences, we generally do not impose limits on “excused” absences.  We use policy to clearly define what constitutes an excused absence and how to get the absence excused. We often consider some school-related absences like college visits or school field trips as “excused absences.”  In addition, when students have long-term medical absences or hospitalizations, we often provide access to the curriculum and tutors to help students make progress, and we code these as “excused absences.”

Under this new accountability system the question for school leaders is:  How can we tighten up our school-based attendance codes to limit the number excused absences?

One approach to this question is to figure out how DESE defines attendance.  In document entitled “DESE Attendance and Dropout Reporting Guidance”, which you will find here, attendance is defined as “a student must be at school, at a school related activity (e.g. field trip), or receiving academic instruction for at least half the school day to be counted as present.”  In addition, this document tells us that “students who are receiving academic instruction from the district for at least half the school day should be counted as present.”

Earlier this month, I sent an email to all secondary school administrators who are members of the MSAA asking them how the code absences when a student is hospitalized or absent and receiving tutoring.  Many schools responded and expressed interest in hearing the results of my little informal study, which is why I’m writing this post now.  I’ve created a google sheet of all the schools that responded to my request.  Please feel free to consult members of this community if you have question or ideas on how to approach this attendance coding dilemma.  There a few schools out there who already code hospitalization/medical long-term absence with tutoring as “present” or “present excused” as well as those who code “Field Trip” and “College Visit” as “present: school business.”

Please let me know if you find this information helpful.

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#MassCue18

If you didn’t get a chance to attend this incredible conference, here are some digital footprints that I’ve collected to help capture the spirit of Day 1 of MassCUE18.

The morning started with 3 Keynotes, which were each very inspiring.  Attendees added thoughts, images and notes to #masscue18 on Twitter.  I’ve collected a sampling of Tweets posted during or shortly after the first day’s keynotes using Wakely: http://wke.lt/w/s/0VcCM

After the keynotes, the classroom sessions began.  There were dozens of workshops to choose from.  My highlights for the day are the following:

The educators from our district were invited to the field for a group photo and that was pretty cool:

DuxGilletteMassCUE

In the end, it was a valuable day to re-connect with colleagues from within the district and from around the commonwealth, learn some current best practices around working in a technology-rich environment with students and teachers, and be inspired by the thoughts and words of some pretty amazing keynote speakers.  All of that, and unlimited free coffee, a variety of really friendly vendors whose products can enrich your learning environment, and some good ice cream!

Making Time for Professional Growth #MSSAASI

http://www.lushome.com/floating-water-tap-fountains-adding-magic-illusions-creative-designs-landscaping-ideas/101041

In today’s busy world, it takes a lot of energy to prioritize and execute a to-do list filled with our work, family, and social responsibilities.  As professional educators we often leave our own professional growth and development to our district leaders to figure out for us.  Some of us engage in professional learning networks on social media and that recharges the batteries for us to keep us running full throttle during the school year.  One way I’ve taken a more active role in my own professional growth since becoming a school administrator is to join Massachusetts Secondary Schools Administrator’s Association.  If you too are a busy educator who yearns for high quality professional learning opportunities outside of your own school or district, I highly recommend seeking our your local branch of your national organization, whether it’s NCTE, ACTFL, NASSP, NCTE, NCHE, ASCD or ISTE, these organizations help to connect you to other educators to expand your own professional network while also providing you access to conferences geared towards personalized learning.

This week, I attended a conference called Summer Institute by MSSAA.

Not only did I have a chance to connect with some truly inspiring educators, many of whom I follow on Twitter, but I also got to attend workshops that helped push my thinking on how to engage with students, teachers, and parents as an assistant principal.

Here are my notes from three workshops I attended over the past two days:

This morning (DAY #2) I attended another workshop entitled, “The Alchemy of Social Media: Prioritizing Relationships to Nurture Whole School Community through Legacy Building.”  I know the title is a mouthful, but it really captures the entire hour discussion hosted by Marty Geoghegan and Brian McCann.  In their workshop they discussed how as school leaders they have experimented using social media and in doing so have created gold.

Sometimes as educators we spend so much time in our respective buildings working our to-do lists, solving problems and organizing events and activities, that we lose sight of what’s happening in the field of education at large.  We also can tend to feel cut off from educators in other schools and districts.  Ever since I started this journey as an educator who connects with a Personal Learning Network on Twitter and as a blogger, I’ve discovered that there’s no better way to find inspiration than to put yourself out there on social media and engage with peers and colleagues both within and without of your district.  I’m grateful to my superiors in my home district for supporting me in my desire to attend this conference as a professional development activity.  I’ve spent two days with a whole community of leaders in education, and I feel reinvigorated to return to my school and get to work on the new school year.  Please take some time to read through my notes from the workshops posted above and explore the links to the educators I’ve mentioned.  If you appreciate what you see, please follow them on Twitter and on their blogs.

If you would like to connect with me and become part of my PLN, please follow this blog and/or follow me on Twitter.

The power of community

The Student Council at Duxbury High School composed the phrased “Define Your Legacy” as the catchphrase to frame their efforts for the 2016-2017 school year.  Student Council President Emily M. took that phrase as a challenge and used it to inspire an idea she had about bringing seniors citizens into our school, into our classrooms to participate in discussions with our current senior students.  In early October, Emily began meeting with the school administration, with leaders in our community, as well as with teachers who might be interested in participating, adopting a highly collaborative and professional approach to making this idea a reality.  On Friday, November 18th, 2016, a group of about a dozen members of the Duxbury Senior Center came to Duxbury High School and spent the day touring the facility, observing classes and student demonstrations, and engaging in thoughtful discussions on the past, present and future of teaching and learning in Duxbury.

The group of visitors arrived just after 9:00 am and was greeted by representatives of the student body, faculty and administration.  Mr. Stephens, principal of DHS, welcomed the group over coffee and light refreshments in our Breadboard area located in the central concourse of the school that we like to refer to as “Main Street.”  During this meet and greet, Emily paired each visitor with a junior or senior student who would act as a personal guide for the remainder of the day.  Soon after, the principal led the group on a tour of the facilities, giving some insights into the construction process and how the plan for the building was developed collaboratively by the building committee a few years ago.  The tour made a lengthy stop in the music suite and visitors were able to observe rehearsals by the symphonic orchestra and string orchestra.  Visitors were introduced to Mr. Ric Madru, director of the music program, who gave them an overview of all the programs offered and answered questions as they came up.  The tour continued on to the wood shop where our Tech. Ed. teacher, Mr. Files showed the group around the woodshop and then introduced the group to members of the Robotics Team.  The group was amazed while viewing a demonstration of the team’s robot which was remotely controlled by one of the students to play soccer with members of the visiting group.

The robotics demonstration was followed by classroom visits.  Each visitor was given a choice as to the types of classes they were interested in visiting–choosing among AP English Literature, AP English Language, AP Biology, US History II, and AP Calculus.  For this part of the program, each visitor traveled with their personal student guide and had a chance to interact and engage with students and the teacher of the classes they visited.  Most visitors were able to spend about 30 minutes in two different classes.

The visitors enjoyed lunch provided by the student chefs of the Breadboard kitchen in the faculty dining room.  This was a good opportunity for visitors to talk informally with teachers, administrators and students about the new building, teaching and learning, or the wonderful food on the menu.

After lunch, visitors, students, teachers and administrators participated in a round-table discussion during which all participants could ask questions and share insights about how education has changed over the years.  The group was delighted to listen to Mrs. Mary Ciccarelli give a wonderful presentation about the history of Duxbury High School and how teaching methods have developed over the years and how the educational values are reflected in the architecture of the buildings that have housed schools over the decades.

At the end of the day, all who participated raved about the experience!  The leadership of the Senior Center and the Duxbury Student Government in collaboration with the DHS Administration have committed to running this program for more members of the senior center in the Spring.  In the end, this intergenerational learning opportunity is on its way to becoming a part of the fabric of Duxbury High School, ensuring that Emily M. has gone a long way towards Defining her Legacy and proving the power of community!

#APCamp16

 

At the start of National AP Appreciation week, the MSSAA hosted this day of professional learning for Assistant Principals around the state of Massachusetts at the Doubletree Hotel in MIlford.  Dr. Henry Turner, Principal of Bedford High School, was the keynote speaker.  He acknowledge that “APs and school secretaries are the real people who run schools.”  He gave the crowd of about 120 people the ground rules for the Edcamp model, including “vote with your feet” and “good conversation and good coffee.”  He challenged all participants to use today to challenge the way you think to try to discover new ways of doing things or improve practice that you’re already committed to.  The more diverse the group of people you invite into the discussion, the richer the discussion will be.  Henry’s message was very eloquent and deep that if you take a risk by sharing, you will grow your own professional learning network that will keep on giving.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb.

Henry’s main recommendations if you want to bring Edcamp to your school to push forward from the PD model into the Professional Learning model are to start small and keep it focused on your learners.

After Henry’s presentation, our participant proposed topics for the breakout discussions by  building the board of discussions for the day posted here.

We moved into a presentation by Deb & Dana Hult of Core Trainings.  They politely asked us all to close the laptops and put away the devices so we could do the hard work of making personal connections with our team.  We had a very fun activity of building a tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.  It was a blast!

The sessions I attended were very productive.  All the notes for every session can be accessed on the MAIN BOARD, set up by Mary Anne Moran

Thanks to the MSSAA for putting on this great day of Professional Learning and Networking!

 

What I learned at #LFL16

    Today I was a participant and a presenter at Leading Future Learning at Holy Cross in Worcester. The day began by hiking up numerous pathways and stairs trying to find Hogan Hall on this beautiful campus. Once I found the space, I was greeting by a friendly familiar face at the registration and then I found a spot at a table with my teammates With whom I will be presenting in the afternoon. As the keynote started, I was please the Caitlin Krause began her presentation by doing some exercises to remind us to be in the moment. This was especially helpful to me as my mind was racing with the inevitable swirl of details from work, all the loose ends that I was unable to tie up at the end of the workday yesterday. The whole purpose for me to attend this conference was to step away from my school for the day and connect with and learn from educators from around Massachusetts about how to effectively use social media in schools today. I wanted to be able to bring back what I learned to my team and my colleagues in a way that is productive and supported by best-practices. With all this on my mind it was so important to hear Caitlin’s message of being in the moment and to practice the meditative exercises she began with. It was funny to look around the room and see a room full of tech-savvy educators with their devices blazing before then breathing in and breathing out in an attempt to be in the moment! Is this even possible in this day and age of hyper connectivity?  But Caitlin’s wonderful presentation took this question head on and reminded us all that what makes an educators job so powerful is leveraging the power of community-building in class and using technology to help amplify the quieter voices to a global audience that becomes a part of a student’s individual learning network. 

The first session I attended was put on by colleagues from the Sharon school district about how to create a living, kid-friendly AUP that helps teachers teach digital citizenship. It was very cool to hear how the district approaches the Acceptable Use policy as a teaching tool that is layered and revisited and built upon each year in students’ lives, helping inform parents as well of the snares and potential pitfalls their kids might experience in their use of digital tools. 

The second session I attended was put on by a panel of Twitter using leaders, Pat Larkin, Brian McCann, Jim Adams and John Clements entitled “Embracing Social Media in Schools.” The panelists discussed how to create proactive policies and how to use social media to build relationships that create the fabric of the culture of the school and district. They took questions from the audience such as “When do devices become a distraction to learning? How do you get your tech folks to let down the blocks?  How do you teach kids how to be responsible citizens? How do you create PD opportunities to help engage staff and develop their own skills?

In the afternoon I attended a session on social media for PD with Jonathan Werner. He is great and shared his resources with us. This session was very upbeat and fast-past with a very slick presentation that hit on the idea that we have to re-think the paradigm of PD. He introduced me to Teachers teaching teachers as a model (#ttt). 

I had the honor of also serving as a presenter at this conference! When I saw the call for proposals for this conference back in the fall, I thought I would love to bring together a panel of school leaders who are social media users. I went on Twitter and invited a few school admins to work with me. I was for fortunate to collaborate with Tom Bresnahan, Brian McCann, Bill Burkhead, and Bill Chaplin. We used Twitter direct messaging to flesh out ideas and the worked on a shared Google doc to plan out our session which I used in creating the proposal. The two Bills ended up being pulled away from attending the event, but their collaboration on the bones of our session was essential. As I sit now waiting for our session to begin, I’m excited about being able to lead a discussion with school leaders about how to navigate through the social media “Shark Tank”.  Follow our discussion here: #LFLTank2016 

In conclusion, what I take away was a great opportunity to touch base with the real people behind some of social media accounts I follow. At its essence, bolstered by the message of its morning keynote speaker, Leading Future Learning 2016 is a collegial activity to contribute to  a professional network of educators who believe in technology. 

Here’s a photo of the Sharks at the debrief session:

  

#StandWithParis

As the descriptions and images of the carnage in Paris pour across our screens and our hearts go out to the families of the innocent, it is important for us to think of our children and our students.  While the candidates and commentators build up their own rankings by fanning the flames of vengeance and blame, we have to find a way to be attentive to the concerns and questions of our students.  Most educators do a fine job of keeping their own personal political opinions out of the discussion when they are carrying out the planned curriculum. It is a little more challenging when we have to face questions about the terrible tragedies that happen over the weekend, whether they happen in our towns or across the world.  Before smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle, we could hope that our students would not know about these terrible events.  Now we are obliged to assume that kids have heard the news or have seen a few of the front-page images that appear automatically when apps are opened or TV channels are surfed across.  We must face this discussion courageously with our students.  We must stay true to our mission by hearing all sides and considering all points of view.  We must, as we aspire to do every day while guiding our students through inquiry, be comfortable in posing questions that do not have clear, unambiguous answers.  We must allow students the space to grapple with these questions and allow them to hear the thoughts and opinions of their peers.  We must caution them to not jump to conclusions or label large populations of people based on the actions of a few.  We must encourage them to hold fast to the values that we hold dear.  We must encourage them to stand with all people across the world who hold similar values. We must encourage them to stand with our fellows who are struggling against a common enemy of intolerance. By engaging in this discussion with our student, we stand with the people of Paris as they mourn the dead, care for the injured, and comfort the traumatized.

image credit: Justin Minggan Wei