Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Opening School After Typhoon Soudelor

The first day of school for Saipan International School was supposed to be August 5th, but we had a visitor to the island that made that quite impossible -- Typhoon Soudelor. On Sunday August 2nd, Soudelor rocked Saipan. Our school, luckily, was saved from major damage. We did lose the roof to our palapala and there was some water damage to ceiling tiles in several classrooms, but compared to what many people woke up to on Monday morning, SIS was blessed. In the face of no power and no water, we had to make some tough decisions. Several schools were damaged and simply could not open; plus, many families on the island had no homes left, or at least they were without power and water as well. Lines for fuel were four and five hours long and lines for water were similar. We had to decide when we would open for school. The teachers were the first to respond with those that could coming to campus to help clean up the school yard. Although we received very little structural damage, the trees lost many branches and the debris from the palapala roof was everywhere. Teachers came in for several days during that first week and attempted to clean up. Barnard, a local carpenter, came by, once his house was repaired, to assist us with our repair work and clean up. Steven Metayer was able to locate a generator and chainsaw on island for us. These items were not easily found right after the typhoon as people purchased everything they could in the aftermath of the storm.

Kyoung Min Song, the Treasurer of our Board of Directors, donated some of her workers to do the dangerous part of the clean up work which involved cutting down loose hanging branches from the giant trees in our school yard. The next round of help came from students and parents as they organized a major clean up day. Kyoung Min cooked a huge amount of curry and rice and served all the students, parents, and teachers who pitched in to help that day. It was a wonderful site to see -- the entire community pulling together to get the school back on its feet. Another member of the board, May Ling Colombo, help throughout the day as well -- cleaning debris and serving curry along side Kyoung Min. John Nersten, a new parent to SIS, volunteered to repair the palapala roof. Currently he is planning to finished the job tomorrow (August 19th).

Steven Metayer came in to help us with arranging generators and power to the buildings. The first thing we needed after the storm, in order to have school, was running water. Steven was able wire our generator directly into the regular circuit board, which supplied some power to the office and to the water pump for the elementary and middle school. Today we have the ability to run the server, both office computers, the water pumps, and a couple of power tools thanks to Steven's work. Without Steven, it would be impossible to even have school at this point.

Due to the efforts of many people and some luck, we were able to open school on August 17th. Students were happy to be back at school and feel that their lives were returning to some type of normal mode. It is hot in the afternoon, but teachers and students are trying to make the most of their time as school. Today, August 18th, we were able to get water running in the high school as well. As more generators arrive, we will be able to power more of the school. The next hope is to be able to run some fans to provide a little relief from the heat in the classrooms. Every day we are making little steps forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood

My mentor Larry Creedon told me often that people -- students, teachers, parents -- need to feel that they have been heard. He pointed out that this was extremely important to remember as an educator, but especially if you are an administrator. I was reminded of this lesson during my Montana School Law course I took last spring. To be honest, the course didn't cover any different information than the one I took from Arkansas State University. We all know that states require people to take the state version of a course to keep university professors in jobs, so there is no reason to get into the whole "why did I have to take school law twice?" discussion at this point. It is just life; it is simply the way things are in this world of ours. But I digress... Anyway... My School Law professor, Dr. Matt, said the same thing, but he had a very clever way of expressing it. His comment was, "Seek first to understand; then be understood." I really liked the way this expression caught me, because it was emphasizing that what you are really trying to do with the person is understand them. Hear his/her thoughts and concerns. Notice how Professor Matt didn't say, listen to what they say and then defend yourself or comment back. It was seek first to understand and then be understood. In other words, you don't have to agree with each other, but you do need to understand each other. This is a very important concept, because many times there cannot be an agreement, but there can be understanding. With understanding, there can be common ground discovered and explored, but neither side has to win or lose. All too often communication becomes about winning and losing rather than understanding and seeking shared beliefs and ideas. My goal this year is to practice the concept of seek first to understand and then be understood while I am communicating with parents, students, and teachers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Long Time No Write

It has been a while since my last blog post, but I have been buried up to my eyeballs in work. Spring semester is a full-speed marathon, rather than a gentle jog. I have a load of reflecting to do about the school year, but for now -- I still need to keep the head down and continue working. Our 29 seniors will be graduating on Friday night and I'm about to head out the door for rehearsal. Tomorrow will see the last AP exam; a late exam for European History. After this week, things really will not slow down, but the pace will become more sane. We will have SAT10 testing throughout the school for the week of May 26-29 and the last big event will be 8th Grade Promotion.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Owning Mistakes as a Educational Leader

Everybody makes mistakes. We live in a world where the reality is that everyone makes mistakes. The true measure of a person, especially an educational leader, is how you handle the situation after the mistake. One of the things I truly believe in is the fact that it is important to own a mistake. To admit to it, to accept it, and to take corrective action. I have two examples of this from the current school year.

The first one was during an assembly. I made a comment that was a joke, but unfortunately the joke embarrassed a faculty member in public. It was a poor choice on my part. Many people would have simply left the matter, but I knew that I needed to apologize for my small, thoughtless act in order for the faculty to understand my integrity and to build trust. Many people, after embarrassing someone in public, will apologize in a private venue. I personal don't find that acceptable. I believe if the mistake was made publicly, then the apology should be public as well. When I approached the teacher and asked about the situation, he told me that he felt uncomfortable during the assembly because of my comment. I apologized then and I apologized in front of the entire faculty at the next full faculty meeting.

The second event occurred more recently. Our Student-Parent Handbook is in need of some major revision. I was about to begin the task of revising, when a teacher pointed out that the current handbook states that students are not allowed to have mobile devices on campus. Now on a walk around campus on any given day, you can easily find multiple mobile devices in use. I felt that the inconsistency between the handbook and the reality needed some form of action quite quickly. I addressed the matter with the faculty and discovered that the teachers were all over the map on the issue: some didn't mind mobile devices and even had students use them in class, some were indifferent to mobile devices, and another group were completely against mobile devices being on campus. I believe my personal feelings on mobile devices are well documented on this blog, but for the record, I love them. But as a group, we needed to come up with something we could live with, so we arrived at 7:30am-3:40pm mobile devices could only be used with teacher permission. Our class begin at 7:45am and ends at 2:45pm, but we have an after school program that runs until 3:40pm. The program is our National Honor Society mentoring program where our NHS members help elementary and middle school students with homework. Several teachers were concerned because having a high school student in charge of policing another student can be a tricky affair. The no mobile devices without permission until 3:40pm would help the high school students, because they can simply say to their mentees, "The rule says no mobile devices." Being a little gung-ho, I put the rule into action... Without consulting the Board of Directors on the matter. And that is where I made a mistake. Especially for me, because I feel that I also have a well documented history on this blog of being completely in favor of democratic decision making. So I apologized for my rash action to the entire BOD, which is as it should be.

I believe that owning a mistake and then taking corrective action actually builds trust. People see the integrity of the person who owns their mistake and tries to correct the problem. And in our school, one of our Expected Schoolwide Learning Results is Integrity. If the leader of the school cannot demonstrate integrity, how are students going to learn about it? We have to model the correct path for students and we need to be a source of inspiration for our faculty and staff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Another Friday Night at School

This Friday was a long day for SIS. We had our 20th annual Healthy Heart Walk and our Parents' Night Out for Valentine's Day. So once again, I find myself at school on a Friday night at 9:00pm. I really don't mind much; partly because we are having a three-day weekend due to Presidents' Day and because I love my job. Plus, this particular event is for the Student Council to raise money for our Prance. You are probably wondering, "What is the Prance?" The Prance is like prom, only better. It was named by a former SIS teacher. Anyway, the late nights don't really bother me; especially when I know it is for the students.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mid-Year Review from Faculty

I feel as an educational leader it is important to seek feedback from your faculty. It is important to demonstrate that you are willing to go through a continual process of reflection and growth in order to model that behavior for faculty. This anonymous survey went out to my faculty two weeks ago. The results in general were quite positive, but there are areas for improvement. I felt that part of the process should also be displaying results publicly for comment. I appreciate and respect the time and energy the faculty put into providing me feedback. There was also a comment section and the most common statement was that our ESL program still needs more work before it will serve our needs as a community of educators. The second most common topic was about our Chinese language program; faculty felt that students needed a target or goal at the end of the program, like taking the SAT Chinese subject test or an AP Chinese exam. I look forward to working with the faculty on these two issues in the next semester and coming school year.
92% positive
69% more positive
61% more positive
84% positive
69% more positive
92% positive
77% positive
92% positive
61% positive
92% positive

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Achieve 3000 Data Reviewed

Achieve 3000 website
We have been in the process of implementing Achieve 3000 this year at Saipan International School. At first some of the teachers were a little reluctant to adopt the program; but, as usual, there were a few teachers who jumped right in and started using it. The results they were seeing were so astounding that the use of the program spread quickly. Now, at the start of the second semester, we have complete implementation in grades 3-10. Basically reaching our target for the end of the year, by the end of the first semester -- you have to like those results!

But the implementation being ahead of schedule is a small item compared to the results the students are showing. Every grade level using the program has seen improvement of at least an average of 50 lexile points. The main feature that students like is the fact that the program is dynamic and meets them at their reading level. Every students has access to the same content, but at the correct reading level. Everyone becomes part of the discussion and interaction in class.

Furthermore, some of our students are ridiculously good at reading with scores beyond the college ready level of 1350. In G5, we have two students ready at the G10 level; not bad, right? In G8, we have one student at the high end of the G10 level, one students at the low end of the G10 level, and one student with a 1575. Yes, you read that correctly -- a 1575! 1575 is well into college level reading. This particular student is ready to tackle university level material as a G7 student. AMAZING! Four of our G9 students are at least one grade level above their age group and one is at 1590. Yes, a 1590! Eight students in G10 are at least one grade level above their age group and three of them are into college level reading scores. The scores are 1400, 1490, and 1535! With our use of Accelerated Reader in the elementary and middle school and now the addition of Achieve 3000, our students will be leaving high school more than ready to take on college level work.  These results are beyond outstanding and provide more evidence that SIS is the best school on Saipan and one of the best in the Pacific region. With the cost of our tuition factored into the picture -- we are the best school in the Pacific.