A message from Superintendent Jeff Stephens:
I love the beginning of a new school year! I always have. As a child, I recall the excitement of meeting my new teacher and the anticipation of discovering which friends would be in my class. As a parent, there was the concern that my children would be assigned to a caring teacher. And, as a teacher, it marked a time to meet new students and begin our learning journey together. No doubt, those same feelings of anticipations are occurring as we open this school year. We welcome many new teachers to our district this year. Some are veterans transferring to Weber School District mid-career. Most are first-year teachers and new to the profession. You have become part of the Weber family. Whether you are a student, parent, teacher or support professional, this new school year offers the opportunity for learning, growth and contribution.
As a district, we begin this year without a long-time friend and colleague -- Brent Richardson. Brent has been on our board of education for the past 19 years and for the last nine years he has served as president. He passed away this summer on the fourth of July. Brent was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 16 months ago and courageously battled that disease for much longer than doctors believed possible. Through his struggle, he never missed a single board meeting! In the midst of his battle with cancer, Brent told me that he was either going "to serve out his term or serve out his life." As it turned out, he served out his life. I can't think of anyone who was a more passionate advocate for public education and for learning than Brent. He was often referred to as the "Renaissance Man" because of his great love and enthusiasm for learning.
Because of Brent's long-time service, along with a significant donation to our foundation prior to his passing, the board of education has named our board room the "Brent W. Richardson Board Room." In addition, the Richardsons' generous donation will fund several "Teach for Weber" scholarships each year to high school seniors who desire to become teachers. Both the naming of the board room and the scholarships to future teachers are fitting tributes to a man who dedicated so much of his life to supporting our schools. While he will be missed, his legacy will live on and inspire the rest of us to "serve out our life" as we work with young people in shaping their future. I wish each of you an extremely successful year!
The end of each school year always brings a range of emotions—fond memories of cherished classroom experiences, friendships established, relationships built, the exhilaration of achievement and the pure exhaustion that comes from having given everything you’ve got to kids. And, of course, the anticipation of some much needed renewal and rest that June, July and August provides!
Several months ago, while attending a district athletic event, a man approached me and asked if I recognized him. Of course I did! I had taught him more than 25 years ago. While I hadn’t seen him since he left Wahlquist Junior High School, I easily recognized his smile, personality and sense of humor. Matt shared some extremely kind and appreciative words about his experience in our junior high English class. His comments touched me deeply. Once again, I realized the power that a teacher, or significant adult, can have in the life of a young person. If we’re not careful, that reality can lose its focus through the day to day rigors of a school year.
As an "old" English teacher, I love literature. One of the poems that has always resonated deeply with me is "O Me! O Life!" by Walt Whitman. It’s a short poem, so those who don’t yet love poetry can still read and enjoy it. In the poem, Whitman seems to lament that things don’t always turn out the way he wants and that life can sometimes feel as though we are merely "plodding" through. Bottom line—Whitman questions if his life has purpose and whether he’s made a difference.
Then come these powerful lines, or in Whitman’s words, the "Answer."
"That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse."
"That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." I love that! What will our verse be? To me, our "verse" represents the tremendous impact we can have on the lives of countless students. That we can shape their lives for good. That we can help them develop their unique gifts and singular talents. And, we can prepare young people to make a meaningful contribution to the world. On behalf of the Weber Board of Education, I thank each of you for the "verse" you contribute, not only to our district but to the many thousands of children who attend our schools.
As part of my duties I get the opportunity to recruit new teachers to our district. As it has been widely publicized, we are in a teacher shortage in most of our country. Recruiting teachers has become very competitive and will continue to be so for some time. Bringing new teachers to our district who are knowledgeable in their content, creative, and energetic amongst other traits will always be a high priority. Everyone knows the importance of a good teacher in a student's life. Through this process Weber School District continues to do very well. I attribute this to many different factors but here are a couple that I feel have made a difference:
I share this information because it has been a cumulative effort from students, parents, staff, and administration to attract good teachers to our district. Thanks to everyone for their efforts to provide the best education possible for students.
A message from Assistant Superintendent Jane Ann Kammeyer:
As a grandparent, I love when my little ones ask all those why questions. Every parent and teacher knows that young children ask a lot of questions. Young children have more questions than answer and they have an amazing sense of wonder. In the January 2016, ASCD Education Update, Kathy Checkley wrote about Oakland Elementary School in Inman, South Carolina. In the first grade at Oakland Elementary, the students have many questions and they know where to go for the answers. They could ask their teacher, but more often than not, students will write down their questions and post them on the “Wonder Wall” located in the main hallway of the school. Fourth grade students are responsible for selecting a question, researching the topic, and then posting their answers for the entire school to see.
This activity supports many learning goals: the younger students learn that asking questions is encouraged and they recognize that their teachers and other students can be reliable sources of information. Fourth Grade students research answers to the questions and share what they have learned. When we give students time and space to wonder and follow their curiosity, students extend their learning far beyond expectations.
We can create classrooms that are not merely academic but also intellectual if we will explicitly invite students to ask probing questions. “The desire to know something has to be protected at all costs,” states Wendy Ostroff, a cognitive science and developmental psychology professor. “Preserving and cultivating curiosity in the classroom has to be our number one priority.”
Asking subject-matter questions is important, but the process of encouraging kids to come up with the questions that matter to them is even better. In the September 2015 issue of Educational Leadership, Alfie Kohn states, “Deep questions help kids stay curious and grow increasingly resourceful at figuring things out, and become active meaning makers.” Subject-matter relevance comes, as students become active meaning makers through their questions.
With technology, we have answers to just about any question we can think of right at our fingertips. In today’s world, again through technology, we find ourselves increasingly surrounded by new and unfamiliar information; we are experiencing something like being a young child, with our many questions, all over again. Everywhere we look; there is something to wonder about and investigate.
To help our students be successful in school and add relevance to their learning, as grandparents, parents and teachers, one of our most important jobs is to foster student’s curiosity and teach them to ask good questions.
While attending a summit along with 40 other superintendents from around the country, I had the unique privilege to meet Sir Ken Robinson. Many of you have listened to Sir Ken’s TED talk on creativity. That TED talk has been viewed more than 43 million times.
During a break, Sir Ken and I discussed several issues currently facing public education. As we visited, he shared a fascinating analogy that resonated profoundly with me. He reminded me that mass education is often compared to manufacturing and the industrial revolution. Sir Ken stated that a more proper analogy for education would be industrial agriculture. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t following him. He continued, “The period of industrialization also brought great changes to farming, including the invention of mechanical ploughs and threshing machines. Additionally, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides massively increased yields and productivity. Industrialized farming produced vast efficiencies in planting, harvesting and processing crops.”
I nodded my head, assuming this achievement was a good thing. But, Sir Ken argued that these advancements had come at a heavy cost. In many parts of the world, that price has been the degradation of the soil to the point where sustainability of these practices is in serious question. “You see,” Sir Ken stressed, “the emphasis was on yields and efficiencies. No one was paying attention to the soil.” He then described the practices of organic farmers, where the emphasis is not primarily on the outputs (crop yield) but on nurturing the soil itself, which differs fundamentally from industrial agriculture.
Then, he drove his point home, “As with industrial farming, the focus in education has been on outputs and yields rather than nurturing the children.” Now I got it! When we focus predominantly on educational outputs and fail to address the needs of the whole child it’s comparable to neglecting the soil. As we work with young people, we must never become so focused on yields and outputs that we forget about the children themselves and the vital role we play in nurturing their growth and development. It’s precisely what we’ve come to call, “The Weber Way!”
December is an exciting month with all of the holiday activities, the music, and the gatherings with family and friends sharing traditions and the spirit of the season. It is about the relationships we have with those we care about. I feel very fortunate, that on a daily basis I get to work with people that I call my friends. I have the opportunity of collaborating with talented teachers, administrators and support staff who are driven by a desire to help all students. Just as important as our education family are the amazing students we work with every day. I see the strong bonds developed between a caring educator and their students and how it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to teaching and learning.
During our October Professional Learning Day, conversations were centered around Relationships, Rigor and Relevance. You can see that the word relationship is first. As educators we must establish stable, warm, and trusting environments for students. One of our amazing educators, tells of a story when he was a science teacher. He was working with a small group of students and they had been asking him several questions. One of them said he had one more question and then asked, "How do you make every student feel like they are your favorite?" If we want to ensure students learn, communicate and think at high levels, we have to develop positive, trusting relationships with students, all students.
In a TED Talk, Rita Pierson challenges teachers to understand the power of relationships. She believes deeply in forming strong bonds with her students: through simple things like apologizing, laughing and just acknowledging their successes. Rita states, "Strong relationships encourage learner exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect."
In Weber School District, we have great people doing great things that impact the lives of our children every day. Continue to value caring, professional relationships between students and teachers. Enjoy the month of December and the energy the students bring to the classroom ... even though you are exhausted from all the holiday activities. May you treasure this season and all of its wonder as you surround yourself with family and friends. Happy Holidays!
Jane Ann Kammeyer
Every day for the past 25 years I have gone to work in Weber School District. It has been so much more than a job to me. Working with and knowing all of the wonderful students, families, administrators, staff, and business partners, has made the past twenty-five years of my life as rich and rewarding as I could have ever hoped for! Weber School District is a place where people really, really care for one another, champion each other's successes and support each other in challenging times. It has always been my goal to make the place that means so much to me a better place for students and staff. I have learned so much from all of you and truly value my experience. More than anything, I will miss the great people I have met and been able to work with every day. I consider every student I have ever known a friend, and every educator a valued colleague. Thank you for letting me be part of your lives and for being an unforgettable part of mine!
On behalf of the entire school district, we want to congratulate Reid on his appointment as superintendent of the Davis School District. For the past 25 years, Reid has served tirelessly as a teacher, coach, principal, CTE Director, Executive Director of Secondary Education and most recently as Assistant Superintendent and principal of Weber Innovation High. His influence and impact on students, teachers and our community has been tremendous! We are so grateful for his dedicated leadership and wish him the very best as he transitions into his new assignment.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is an oft-asked question that a student hears throughout their school career. While many have “no idea” what they want to pursue for future employment, for those that do, Weber School District has phenomenal opportunities available. Over the past nine years, WSD’s Internship program has grown from 40 students to over 140 students per semester. Having an internship has brought a whole new meaning to a young adult’s education as employer/mentors offer experiences as diverse as the workplace itself. Law enforcement, physical therapy, accounting, multiple health professions, engineering, education, and veterinarians are just some of the occupations that our students are able to experience. The opportunities encompass the full spectrum of real-world, relevant experience.
The cooperation and willingness of our business partners is incredible and indicative of the kind of support we receive in Weber School District on behalf of our students. Business Partners are establishing expectations, competencies and benchmarks that they want the interns to reach while out in the workplace. It’s not enough to just show up anymore, students are expected to develop skills related to their work experiences. With these higher expectations, the students come away feeling like they have really done something, having been involved in meaningful projects related to advancing the business. They become, as Dave Harris, engineer from Fresenius, put it, “Value added.”
Mr. Jeff Meyer, our CTE Work-Based Learning Coordinator organizes, initiates and manages Weber District’s Internship program and is a fantastic ambassador for this outstanding opportunity. With each quarter’s experience students submit a reflection sheet about their experiences to Mr. Meyer. When asked about some of the things that are related by the students, Mr. Meyer said that the most common phrase he sees is “…this was the best experience of my Senior/Junior Year,” and that feeling is echoed by our employers/mentors. Even though the internship is not meant to be a paid experience last spring alone more than 20 of our student interns had been hired in one capacity or another at their internship site. That number is especially high when many of our business partners are limited due to the post-secondary degree and certification requirements of their employees.
It would be difficult for our schools to replicate the type of learning that students receive through their internships. Many students realize these are the jobs that they want to pursue for their career and use it as a springboard as they continue on to post-secondary education. Some find out that the occupation is not for them and are able to pursue other careers. Regardless of the situation, each one of our students has developed soft skills pertaining to work-place etiquette and protocols that they will be able to utilize in whatever their pursuits may be. Student Internships….another part of “The Weber Way”!
Overarching Educational Truths -
As we settle into this new school year, I am once again reminded that working in schools is one of the most exhilarating, rewarding and demanding jobs that exists. While we interact closely with young people and provide them with a high-quality, broad education there are some overarching truths that can guide our efforts. By no means is this an exhaustive list. I know each of you could add something significant based on your experience and insight. Following are a few principles that have given me direction:
I invite each of you to consider these overarching truths as we begin this new school year. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many!