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!
Welcome Back to School!
The advertisements for back to school are running. A new energy builds in the air as it draws closer to that time -- time for our kids to load up their backpacks, don their new clothes and head back to school. It can be a hard transition going from the freedom of summer to the structure of being a full-time student. But you know it is worth it. There is nothing like getting a good education, it gives our children a foundation for the rest of their lives.
Welcome back to all Weber School District students, teachers, support staff and administrators. We hope you have had a rejuvenating, great summer. I know teachers look forward with great anticipation to meeting their new students. Our teachers and administrators have been busy preparing for the 2016-17 school year and are ready to provide an outstanding educational experience for all students.
Though the halls of our schools have been quiet over the summer, a lot has happened. We appreciate the maintenance staff, custodians and computer techs that have all been busy preparing the buildings and grounds for the return of students. It is that time of year when we are excited to once again hear the sounds of students in the halls and classrooms...the sounds of learning.
As students walk through the school doors in August, you will be able to count on what is known in our district as the Weber Way: a whole child culture with a passionate, talented and dedicated faculty who go above and beyond to bring out the best in children. Welcome to the 2016-17 school year. May this year be filled with hope, anticipation, new learning and great growth.
Training always makes a difference!
A few weeks ago at Fremont High School, in one of our athletic training classes a student/athlete suddenly experienced a life threatening medical emergency. As the student lay motionless on the gymnasium floor, a group of our great coaches and teachers sprang into action. 911 was called, and CPR was initiated on the student in jeopardy. While doing CPR one of the coaches ran for the AED (automatic external defibrillator) machine installed outside the door of the gym while others ushered the other student/athletes to another room. Under the direction of the AED machine, the student was shocked 3 times amidst vigorous CPR administered by the coaching staff. Plain City Fire and others responded quickly and the student was transported to the hospital for treatment of this serious incident. Fortunately for this student and his family he is well on his way to a full recovery, thanks in large part to the initial care provided by an excellently prepared, caring coaching staff at Fremont High School. When asked about the incident Mr. Cole Price stated that "the training we received from our School Nurse, Mrs. Pam Ballif and Mr. Doug Kapp last year really paid off when it counted."
As Orion Junior closed out the school year, their student failure rate was an incredible 1%! Although we expect and want every student to succeed, for Orion's great staff to pull students through at that rate is a tremendous testament to their dedication and the massive amount of training and preparation they have participated in as a staff over the past several years. Joe Jensen, Principal of Orem Junior High and the 2013-14 Principal of the Year in Utah stated, "Research shows that the most likely people to not graduate are those who build a credit hole in 9th grade." This fact is something we have known as a district and are working hard to eliminate....the staff at Orion, has prepared to tackle this challenge.
The success of our Roy Cone Project has been well documented and recognized to the extent that in the past legislative session Representative Ann Millner ran and passed a bill earmarking funding for schools to duplicate the Roy Cone Model. Every school in the Roy Cone has seen remarkable increases in attendance, student achievement and ultimately graduation rates. This success has come through multiple teacher and staff trainings as well as new and innovative methods adopted by all staff members throughout the cone. They have prepared and trained and the results are that all students are more successful!
Throughout the past 3 years in our Bonneville Cone all of our schools have participated in a training program, Assessment to Achievement, designed to enhance Professional Learning Communities and increase direct intervention with struggling students. The number of students failing and falling through cracks has decreased significantly and they too are seeing increased graduation rates as a result of commitment and dedication to increased learning and training.
Our students get better when we as professionals get better! Attendance, student engagement in school, graduation rates all go up as our dedication, and application of professional training and knowledge goes up. YOU make a difference to the individual as well as to the masses.
As we enter summer break from school, we encourage you to read a book, attend a conference, even just contemplate lesson plans and method of instruction....it all makes us better and in turn saves students' lives....sometimes literally! It's the Weber Way!
Work Worth Doing -
With less than one month remaining in the 2015-16 school year, it is surprising to realize just how quickly this year has gone. I congratulate each of our students, teachers, support professionals and administrators on a successful and productive year. Thank you for your significant work and effort. Certainly, it has made a positive difference!
Earlier in the school year, I invited everyone in our district to rise to a challenge I termed, “The Weber Way.” That challenge entails maintaining a whole child focus, which places an emphasis on providing a rich and comprehensive learning experience for all children, while demonstrating greater awareness of the outside expectations associated with the testing and accountability model that permeates schools throughout our nation. I asked teachers to develop a renewed focus to teach the Utah Core Standards, allow all students to participate in interim SAGE assessments to familiarize them with testing formats and ease test anxiety, and take advantage of more instructional time by spiraling the curriculum and teaching for deep understanding rather than extensive year-end reviews. Great efforts have been made to prepare students for SAGE testing WITHOUT sacrificing what we know is right for children. That is an extraordinary thing! I know this has required extra work and effort on the part of every employee.
I have been pleased by the tremendous strides made to do things “The Weber Way.” Recently, I was presented with a replica road sign that reads, “The Weber Way.” It hangs in my office. Someone even suggested that Adams Avenue (in front of the district office) be renamed “Weber Way.” The “Weber Way” suggests that there is a right way to do things and that’s the way we do it in our district.
I love to read about Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. Teddy grew up a sickly child in a wealthy family. Under such circumstances, he could have easily chosen a life of comfort and ease, but he didn’t. Rather, Teddy became an avid outdoorsman and competitive athlete. Most recall his leadership with the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, as well as his successful political career. While governor of New York, Roosevelt preached what he called the “doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife.” With great conviction, he once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I agree. The work with which each of us is engaged is definitely “work worth doing.” On behalf of the Board of Education, I wish to thank every one of you for a great school year.
Have you found yourself saying, “I can hardly believe it’s April” or, “I can’t believe it’s the last quarter of school.” Time seems to be flying by so quickly. My next thoughts turn to all of the things that need to happen before the end of school. Among all of the important things going on, teachers and parents need to remember they have great influence as they encourage their students to be persistent and finish the school year strong. Persistence is essential to success, and the more of it you display, the more you will accomplish. It is persistence that will allow you to make the most of your ability.
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”
– Newt Gingrich
“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”
– James Dobson
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to always try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison
“Continuous effort - - not strength or intelligence - - is the key to unlocking our potential.”
– Winston Churchill
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
– Benjamin Franklin
The concept of perseverance brings to mind the story of the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey team. Team USA embodied the growth mindset and continuous effort we strive daily to build in the students of Weber School District.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, the USA hockey team was represented by a collection of young college kids, some with pro hockey aspirations. Under the guidance of their coach, Herb Brooks, the young American athletes became a fast, well-conditioned and cohesive team. Brooks knew how dangerous his team could be. He also knew that many of their competitors were underestimating his team’s potential and had mostly written them off as a medal contender. Brooks would use this miscalculation to his team’s advantage.
In order to make it to the medal round, the USA team had to fight hard in each match. They won their opening game against Sweden. This was a significant win, since USA had not beaten the Swedes since 1960. Next, the Americans dominated a strong Czech team by winning 7-3. Team USA continued their way through the bracket by winning their next three games, ultimately positioning them for the first medal round against the Russian team. In a very tense game against the Soviet team, the well-conditioned USA team held off the Russians and won 4-3. They finished strong in what became known as the Miracle on Ice.
Today, more than 30 years later, most people believe that this unlikely victory resulted in a gold medal for the USA. It did not. The win over Russia put Team USA through to the next round where they went on to defeat Finland and win the gold. In six of the seven games played, the USA team had to come back from a deficit to win. They truly embodied the spirit of belief, persistence, and passion. And, they definitely finished strong!
We often refer to the Weber Way in our district. We believe in educating the whole child. Teaching our students to be positive, persistent and to finish strong is whole child thinking. These life skills are necessary for a successful future. We want to thank educators and parents as we all work together to support students and ensure success by fostering a spirit of persistence, perseverance and continuous effort.
In Support of Support!
Every morning between approximately 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. 31,325 students across Weber County walk out of doors and head out to school. At school they are welcomed by the most caring, well-trained administrators and teachers in the country.
Getting our students to school and supporting them in their learning is an enormous task and behind the scenes there is an army of dedicated support personnel that makes the experience of school in Weber District an inviting, safe and enriching experience. To get a feel of the value of the work provided by support staff it is good to consider exactly what they accomplish each day:
We are very grateful for the dedicated professionals that make up the Weber School District Classified Employees and Educational Support Staff. They make the educational experience of our students one of opportunity and support for achievement. Through a dedicated and persistent effort, these great Weber District personnel,make our children’s lives brighter!
Marked for Good -
In his book, Eight Habits of the Heart, noted entrepreneur and Pulitzer-nominated author, Clifton Taulbert, wrote about his childhood growing up on the Mississippi Delta. Taulbert recalled, “High expectations were commonplace in our community. They fueled our dreams. They were bigger than all of us--collective dreams worked out individually. The adults in our community told us daily that we were of value and that big things were expected of us. Even now I feel compelled to do my best! In spite of legal segregation, racism and poverty, they believed in their children. Those foundational people took a giant leap into a world we could not yet see but one they knew awaited us. They told us that we were ‘marked for good’ and we believed them.”
As educators, we serve in a role similar to the “foundational people” of Clifton Taulbert’s childhood. Think about those who helped build high expectations in your life. It may have been a teacher, family member, coach or advisor. In each case, it’s as though these key individuals were able to see something within us that we were not yet able to envision. As a result, their words inspired and lifted us through periods of personal doubt and discouragement. To this day, I still pay tribute to and honor those vital people who helped convince me that I was “marked for good.”
Recently, I received a note from a grateful mother whose son had been struggling in school. “Then,” this mother states, “Mr. Newbold entered my son’s life. He always speaks positive to my son and tells him that he can do math. Mr. Newbold welcomed my son to come early and stay late to work with him until all homework was made up and he began passing tests. More than giving my son a second chance, Mr. Newbold restored my son’s pride in his scholastic abilities.” My favorite part of the letter is this unique closing, “My son keeps checking to make sure that I’ve sent this e-mail because he thinks Mr. Newbold is an ‘awesome dude and we should tell his boss.’”
Each fall, the PDK/Gallup Poll conducts a national survey to assess the public’s attitudes toward schools. When asked in their latest poll to identify the most important measure of a school’s effectiveness, 81% of parents responded, “The percent of students who feel hopeful about their future.” In other words, they want their children to understand and internalize that they’ve been “marked for good.” I invite each of you to set young people’s sights on a world they may not have yet fully imagined. Help them see their bright future and the contribution they can make to our community, country and world. The generation of children in our schools today has definitely been “marked for good.”
Each year Weber School Foundation kicks off the holiday season with its annual Christmas Tree Jubilee to raise money for special needs students in Weber County. Through the efforts of the foundation board and countless volunteers of all ages and walks of life, over $400,000.00 will be raised to increase educational opportunities and enhance the lives of special needs students. Educational adaptive devices, lifts and wheelchairs, adaptive playgrounds and equipment and many other devices are the types of items provided to those who desperately need them in order to attain educational and life goals.
In addition to the Weber District Foundation’s great work, our schools actively participate in providing benefits for others where it is needed. Some of the great things our students, staff members and wonderful communities are doing for others this holiday season include:
All of these efforts give our students the opportunity to serve others and to realize the satisfaction of helping fellow students and community members. Even in times when the economy has been a challenge, our great communities have always given of their means to the numerous charitable projects. We thank all for that great love, kindness and generosity and wish everyone a happy holiday season!
By now, each school has received their 2015 SAGE results and had opportunities to carefully analyze the data. Out of 27 grades and subjects tested, Weber School District experienced growth in 24. District-wide, English Language Arts proficiency (grades 3 - 11) raised by 2%, Math (grades 3 - 11) by 5% and Science (grades 4 - 11/12) by 3%. Especially notable was the growth in high school mathematics performance from 2014 to 2015. Proficiency levels in Secondary Math I raised 15 percentage points and those in Secondary Math III raised by a commendable 25 percentage points.
We're proud of that steady growth in student achievement and believe it is powered by our three primary drivers:
That broad, comprehensive learning experience can be illustrated by the following secondary school results:
Our whole child focus is supported by such elementary programs as:
We're proud of the many excellent opportunities provided for young people throughout our district. Further, we're convinced that Weber's whole child approach is the right thing to do for young people. With that said, we also recognize that we operate in a testing and accountability environment where our success is frequently judged by student performance on assessments. While our student achievement increased on SAGE tests this past year, Weber School District still lags behind the state average. Additionally, our graduation rate is slightly below the state average. We acknowledge that we have room for continued progress in these areas.
Our great challenge is to sustain a whole child philosophy while demonstrating a greater awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model. Across the country, some schools and districts have attained higher test scores at the expense of a full, rich and comprehensive learning experience for children. We're committed NOT to do that! Developing the organizational capacity to maintain the whole child experience and demonstrating a heightened awareness of the external expectations associated with the testing and accountability model is what I call THE WEBER WAY.
To achieve our goal, I would like each teacher to consider the following suggestions:
Teachers, as you meet together in PLCs, I invite you to talk about how you might incorporate one or two of these proposals into your classroom instruction. I believe that wise and thoughtful teachers can implement these suggestions without sacrificing that broad, rich learning experience we want for every student. In doing so, we're meeting the needs of children, as well as the external expectations of school success. And, we're doing it THE WEBER WAY!
I express my deepest appreciation to every member of the Weber School District family. Your enormous commitment to children is exceptional! You have my highest respect and admiration.