Some years ago, I had the privilege of listening to the renowned historian, David McCullough, speak in Salt Lake City. The title of his lecture instantly grabbed my attention—“The Importance of Teachers.” McCullough discussed the influence teachers had had on key figures in American history. I was especially impressed by one of McCullough’s stories—The Incident of the Fish:
Louis Agassiz, a well-known American scientist of his day, was also a master teacher with a rather unconventional teaching style. Agassiz was a professor at Harvard University. He prepared no syllabus for his courses, nor did he require an entrance exam for students to enroll in his classes. They were accepted simply on whether or not he liked them, which meant that he took just about everyone.
Agassiz believed that the way to all learning, “the backbone of education,” as he frequently reminded his students, was to know something thoroughly. “A smattering of everything is worth little,” he asserted. His goal was to teach students “to see deeply” in order to develop genuine understanding. This objective was illustrated by “the incident of the fish,” as told by one of his former students, Samuel Scudder.
After Professor Agassiz interviewed and accepted Samuel Scudder into his class, he asked Samuel when he would like to begin. Scudder responded, “Right now.” Agassiz excused himself momentarily. When he re-entered the classroom, he was carrying a dead fish! This was a stinking, putrid and foul-smelling fish personally selected by Agassiz from among countless jars lining the shelves. Professor Agassiz placed the dead fish on a dish in front of Samuel Scudder. He then provided this simple instruction, “Look at the fish.” At this point, Agassiz left the room. Scudder described what happened next:
In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen of that fish. Half an hour passed—an hour—another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly! I was in despair. I was forbidden to use a magnifying glass. Instruments of all kinds were forbidden. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish! It seemed a most limited field. I pushed my finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows, until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish, and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature.
Hours later, Agassiz returned and listened as Scudder attempted to describe his observations and asked his teacher what he should do next. The astute professor repeated his original directive, “Look at the fish!” Scudder continued:
I was irritated; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now I set myself to my task with a renewed will, and discovered one new thing after another. The afternoon passed quickly; and when, toward its close, the professor inquired, “Do you see it?” I replied, “No, I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.
The following day, having thought of the fish throughout the night, Samuel Scudder had a brainstorm. “The fish,” he explained to Professor Agassiz, “had symmetrical sides with paired organs.”
“Of course! Of course!” Agassiz said, obviously delighted, when his new student shared his newfound insight. Once again, Scudder asked what he should do next, and Agassiz enthusiastically replied, “Oh, look at your fish!” This lesson went on for three full days. “Look, look, look!” was the repeated charge. Years later, Scudder, who became widely known for his work on the importance of first-hand, careful observation in the natural sciences, frequently recalled the legacy of his beloved teacher.
In an era that places too great an emphasis on testing, it is vital that we continue to teach for deep understanding, just as Louis Agassiz did so many years ago. We should always consider the following question, “What does it mean to truly understand something?” Understanding fundamental, core ideas and developing the capacity to transfer and apply should be the primary goals of all teaching and learning. Thank you to the hundreds of dedicated teachers in Weber School District who teach for deep understanding, application and transfer every day. This remains “the backbone” of a child’s educational experience.
A message from Assistant Superintendent Jane Ann Kammeyer:
Happy New Year! It is that time of year when we stop to reflect and make New Year’s resolutions. I always start the new year with big goals… go on a diet, get more exercise. But, let’s face it; it usually doesn’t happen. However, here are a few school/work New Year’s resolutions you and I might actually be able to fulfill in 2018.
Coming off a much-needed break, make sure your classroom is a happy place for you and your students in the long stretch to summer.
I’m referring to your own personal classroom goals. We are at the mid-year point for school and it is a great time to do a check for where you are now and where you want your students to be in a few short months.
The caring professional relationships we develop with our students is important to the learning process. Continue to know and seek to understand each student in your classroom.
Be adventuresome in trying something new. Use technology or add a new evidence based instructional strategy each month to keep things new and challenging for you and your students. Making a list and assigning one new thing to each month will help you actually stick to this resolution.
I really need this one… With the fresh start following the break, now is a great time to get your classroom organization back on track. Being organized helps you feel so much better.
This is last on my list, but it is certainly not the least important. As best you can, keep school work at school and enjoy your time at home. Keeping yourself happy will be better for you and your students.
So, what resolutions will you work on this year? Whatever it is, I hope that you have a wonderful 2018.
It’s hard to believe that the holidays are here. What a great time to be part of education. Hopefully it is a time to reflect and be grateful and happy for what we have. It is also a season to give. Last week I attended the Christmas Tree Jubilee and it was a fabulous event. At this event I was reminded of what it is to give during this season. When you first walk into the event you are greeted with numerous Christmas trees that have been uniquely and beautifully decorated, you see baskets that have been created and also decorated that are loaded with gifts and goodies. All of these items that you see have been donated so they can be purchased later with the proceeds going to the Weber School District Foundation. As I admired the wonderful trees and baskets and other gifts donated, I thought of the countless hours that went into the decorating and purchasing these items. I thought of the countless people that were there at the event donating their time, the student groups that performed during each day of the event and other students that helped with whatever else was needed. I watched our own foundation team and the many hours that were put in months ago to make this event a success. I watched as so many community members and business owners dug deep into their pockets to pay for tables at the dinner, purchase the trees, baskets and other gifts as well as the many others that just made donations in general to the event. Finally, I watched as so many more volunteered to deliver these trees and gifts to those who had bought them. All of this to help children. Being able to see this whole process take place from beginning to end was heartwarming and eye opening. We are part of a great district and community and I am proud to be a part of it. Have a great holiday season this year.
Don’t you just love getting something new? When school starts, students frequently get new backpacks, shoes, clothes, and new teachers. Well this year our teachers have something new too. In addition to new students, many of them have some amazing new instructional resources. These new resources and professional development support four subject areas:
The new science resources are breaking the mold of traditional instructional resource. These digital lessons move us away from the traditional teaching method of moving from topic to topic, like a textbook does. Students now are driven by answering questions and engaging with phenomena. Throughout the Storyline, each episode adds to the student’s progress of deeper understanding. Coherency comes from the perspective of an inquiring student, engaged in a relevant learning experience. If you would like to see more on these great resources, please visit:
Weber School District has adopted EngageNY as the primary mathematics resource. EngageNY (also called Eureka Math) is an open educational resource that aligns extremely well with the Utah Core State Standards for Mathematics. In conjunction with this adoption, all teachers had the opportunity to attend professional learning during the summer. Teachers may continue their learning by tuning into #MathBUZZ live on Twitter each Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:00. Follow @JBTMath to participate in or watch these great sessions! If you would like more information on this great K - 6 mathematics instructional resource, please visit:
Collections published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is the newly adopted primary resource adopted by Weber School District for secondary English Language Arts. Collections provides a multi-faceted digital and print approach. It provides a balance of complex text with collections of fiction, nonfiction and informational text. The program takes learning to a deeper level through enhanced collaboration with interactive digital tools including Google. You can find additional information at:
iLitELL is the newly adopted program for our secondary EL students. iLitEll is a flexible solution that blends print and digital learning experiences to meet English learners where they are and build their language and literacy skills. This program supports EL students by developing language skills through reading writing, speaking and listening. For more information about the iLitELL program please visit:
We appreciate the work of the various adoption committees that went through the process to find great instructional resources that assist teachers in engaging, challenging and supporting all students as they work to reach their full potential.
Jane Ann Kammeyer
It's been a great start to a new school year. It's exciting to see students and staff in our schools once again. Preparing our students for the future is what we are all about. With this preparation comes the need to not only address each student's needs, but also to address issues and concerns that arise within the district. One of those issues is our district's rapid growth rate. We continue to grow at an accelerated pace, and we expect to add an additional 1500 students over the next four years. We have aging school buildings that present handicap access and safety concerns. There are overcrowding issues in many of our classrooms. The Board of Education and Weber School District leadership has stewardship to address these needs as well as to proactively plan for the future.
In an effort to meet these needs, the Board of Education voted to place a $97 million general obligation bond proposition on the November 7th ballot. This decision followed recommendations and input from the public engaged in the process through community meetings, school councils and PTAs, faculty and employee meetings, social media and two bond surveys. If approved, there will be NO increase to the property tax rate.
Our bond projects are projected to begin in 2018 with a 12 classroom addition to Fremont High School, a new elementary school in Farr West (Remuda) and a new elementary school in Pleasant View. In 2019 we are projected to rebuild Roy Junior High School and expand capacity at Weber Innovation High School. Weber Innovation High School offers personalized learning opportunities through a combination of digital curriculum in a blended teaching model, as well as traditional and early college courses. Weber Innovation High School is available to students from all four of our traditional high schools. Currently, we have 250 students attending; however, the board would like to expand that number to as many as 600-700 students. This would not only provide an additional option to families throughout our school district, but would also ease some pressure from crowded high schools.
We realize that there are additional needs above and beyond projects included on this bond. Weber School District has always followed a philosophy to take care of our most immediate needs. We realize there will probably be a need for another bond in the next 5 to 6 years. We have learned from other districts that have asked for more than what the public has been willing to pay.
As we go through this process, please know there will be opportunities for your input. The Superintendency will be at every school and community during the months of September and October to inform and receive feedback. Please contact your local school for scheduling information. As always, thank you for your support.
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.