Recently, I learned of a high school teacher who went to extraordinary lengths to reach a struggling student. This student, who at one point was in jeopardy of not graduating high school, is now back on track and eager for graduation later this spring. No doubt, many caring teachers were instrumental in her turnaround. I had an opportunity to meet and talk with this young woman. She described her enthusiasm for school and attributed her recent success to her teachers. When I asked about her future goals, she told me that she plans to attend Bowling Green University for a bachelor’s degree and then the University of Miami for her master’s degree in marine biology. I was deeply touched by the transformation in this student and the fact that it was teachers who inspired the change.
Of the many ways that teachers impact students, their capacity to inspire them is perhaps the most far-reaching. There’s simply no way to measure it! Teachers have the uncanny capacity to recognize the talent and potential in students. Frequently, the students themselves fail to recognize their own ability. But, insightful teachers see it and daily go about encouraging and developing those gifts.
Last year, a high school principal introduced me to their math Sterling Scholar. This student told me that she wasn’t always good at math, but her junior high math teacher helped her see her own potential. High school math teachers continued nurturing her talents. This young woman inspired me when I asked, “What is it about mathematics that you enjoy so much?” After a moment’s reflection, she thoughtfully responded, “Math gives me the hope that every problem has a solution.” No doubt, she will contribute much to the world.
In a letter to his wife, Abigail, dated July 7, 1776, just three days after America had determined its independent course, John Adams wrote the following: “Children have capacities equal to anything. There is a vigor in their understanding and a spirit and fire in the temper of every one of them, which is capable of ascending the heights of art, science, trade, war, or politics.” Teachers and other adults in our schools play a unique role in seeing that “spirit and fire” in children and inspiring them as they ascend “the heights” toward achieving their potential. We are most grateful for the impact that all professionals in our schools have on young people!
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned that a nation could not expect to be both free and ignorant at the same time. The advantages of living in a democratic society are simply too great to allow freedom and ignorance to exist in unison. As recipients of the blessings of this nation, we must continually strive to do our best to educate our children and grandchildren to someday be able to assume the responsibilities and enjoy the freedoms of our society. We may rightfully state that the problems facing society today have never been greater and the importance of a highly educated people to help solve those problems has never been more critical. Tamra Excell stated that “…education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future…”
So how do we prepare students for a future that we ourselves can barely imagine? How do we empower children in our schools to be able to make a positive impact in an ever changing world?
These are difficult questions that must be addressed. In Weber School District, we strive to create personalized education opportunities geared at preparing students to be successful, not just in their own neighborhoods, but as world citizens. A personalized education program is student-driven where students take an active role in their education, tailored to each student’s learning style.
Instead of simply functioning solely as disseminators of information, our teachers also take an active role as facilitators and mentors offering guidance and feedback to each student. We can no longer limit students to only that which we know.
Perhaps more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn. Students must be prepared with the ability to learn, critically evaluate, and apply new concepts that come their way. Our teachers provide a wonderful service in assisting students with educational opportunities that help them acquire the ability to learn and progress. Specialized programs and caring teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels help provide students with these opportunities for development and growth.
We appreciate our dedicated teachers in Weber School District who through their planning, preparation, and collaboration provide opportunities for preparing students for the future.
I drive an older car. My car will quickly (might be more accurately to say slowly ..as nothing moves quickly on my car) pass the 340,000 mile mark this month. Every morning when I start my car I wonder if this will be the day that the engine doesn’t rev or turn over. And yet each and every day, even in frigid weather, it starts. The paint is faded and peeling and my car is not nearly as handsome as the newer models, but the engine continues to perform all necessary tasks needed to function. Over the life of my car I have spent very little money on repairs. One may be amazed to find that my car has the original windshield, radio and seats. I imagine that I have many math and science teachers to thank, those who have inspired young future engineers to build an automobile that can perform so effectively. How many do I need to thank? How many elementary teachers were needed to make this happen? How many students spent hour upon hour studying diligently so that someday they could create just the right combination for internal combustion? How many parents sat with their child after school encouraging them to learn to read or to complete their science project? I know that I have been the benefactor of untold dedication by educators, students and parents. I know my ever trusty car is just the tip of the iceberg, I thank you all, wherever you may be.
The month of April is often times associated with the paying of taxes. Recently, I had a conversation with an individual that felt it unfair that he was paying taxes for schools when his children were raised and living out of state. “Why am I paying to educate other people’s children?” he asked. I know that taxes are an unpopular subject and there are many diverse opinions on how to best raise, use and distribute taxes. I am too faint of heart to offer solutions in those arena’s, but I will state boldly that society as a whole benefits from taxes spent on education, regardless if you have children currently attending a public school. Public education provides children the needed building blocks to create their future. An educated child is a more productive adult, one who can turn a heap of metal into a marvel of a car. When we pay taxes for education we are investing in the type of culture and society in which we want to live. I am convinced that I am still driving my car today in part because people willingly or unwillingly paid a portion of their taxes into the educational system. Weber School District firmly believes that we must be wise stewards of your tax dollars and do all we can to live up to your expectations of trust and competency. Thank you to all of you that help make this complex world a better place. Enjoy the sunshine.
Several weeks ago, I had an insightful conversation with the head of clinical nursing at a local hospital. She discussed the challenge that the hospital was facing to improve patient satisfaction. For months, the nurses’ approach was to standardize care for each patient. Primarily, they were focused on standardization to avoid errors as well as inequity of patient care. The results were disappointing. Patient satisfaction remained relatively unchanged. Then she had a brainstorm--every patient is different! You can’t standardize individual patient care and expect to improve patient satisfaction. The nurses are now looking at each patient individually and addressing each patient’s specific needs and concerns.
Within our profession, there is a strong tendency to standardize schooling. However, just as with nursing, it’s simply not the right thing to do. Each child is different. Each child brings different strengths, interests, and needs. I am so thrilled to be a part of a school district where our teachers and support professionals get that. Regularly, I receive letters and e-mails from parents who are so pleased with the experiences that their children are having in our schools. I want to quote from one note I recently received:
“My son is very, very smart. He loves to work and please. I was very nervous about putting him into public schools this year--until I met his teacher. She deserves a medal! She has spent countless hours working with my son to not only build his confidence, but also allow him to grow as a student. My son is now excelling both academically and behaviorally. I couldn’t have done it alone without his teacher’s great support. And, the principal was right there the entire time helping us along. I just wanted to let you know the EXCEPTIONAL staff you have and how truly blessed I feel to have been involved with them. Thank You!”
We are charged to care for and develop the Whole Child. When students feel safe in school, they are ready to learn. Students who feel connected to school are more likely to stay in school and excel. All students who have access to challenging and engaging academic experiences are better prepared for further education, work, and civic life. These components must work together, not in isolation. And, they can’t be standardized! The demands of a 21st Century education require a Whole Child approach to learning, teaching, and community engagement in which we address the uniqueness of each student.
I wish to express my deepest appreciation to each of you for your persistence, professionalism, and commitment to children. I am proud of our school district! I love the remarkable things that you do for children every day. Thank you for contributing to a highly successful school year.
Last March, I had the unique privilege to meet the renowned author and poet, Maya Angelou, prior to her speaking to a large audience of educators. Undoubtedly, Dr. Angelou is an American treasure! She began her speech with a song of hope and gratitude: "When it looked like the sun wouldn't shine anymore; God put a rainbow in the cloud. It's not just that we have rainbows in the sky," she explained, "but in the clouds themselves. So, even when it seems as though the storm won't let up, we have something there to encourage us." Dr. Angelou then told this large body of teachers that they, too, are "rainbows in the clouds" for the children they teach.
As I reflect back on my life, the brightest rainbows in the clouds for me are past teachers. I was fortunate to have the same kindergarten and first grade teacher, Mrs. Bennett, a wonderful teacher and truly a rainbow in my life. Mrs. Schoof was as loving and kind a teacher that I've ever known. Miss Pratt was firm and demanding, but inspired within me a love of literature, which has stayed with me throughout my life. I've had so many teachers who are rainbows in the clouds.
As we begin this school year, I encourage each of our teachers and support professionals to find opportunities to be rainbows in the clouds for students. You are in a unique position to inspire, build, encourage, and lift young people. Please try to recognize those children whose lives may be storm-ravaged and then become a rainbow in their cloud.
I want to thank each of you for your commitment to educating young people. The Weber School District is filled with caring adults who are rainbows in the clouds for our students. You make a difference with each word of encouragement and expression of hope.
SCHOOL SAFETY PROCEDURES
As a result of the Sandy Hook shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012, many school districts across the nation have examined the safety procedures in their schools. In Weber School District, our first priority is to insure the safety and wellbeing of our students and employees. We have taken a deliberate, thoughtful approach on how best to accomplish this. We made a determination to research and use best practice as we make modifications to our current safety policies. Recognizing that law enforcement is in the best position to give input on current best safety protocol, we invited the Weber County Sheriff and Police Chiefs from each city in our district to meet in early January with district level administrators and begin dialog on how we can work with each other in a cohesive partnership for the safety of our schools.
As a group, we identified four areas of concern that we needed to address: 1) Building Security; 2) School Resource Officers; 3) Video Security System; and, 4) Offender Prevention. These committees have spent a vast amount of time researching best current practice that we can implement in our schools.
During the month of September, a district office administrator and a trained law enforcement officer will visit with the faculty and staff of all 44 schools and train them on a standard response protocol (SRP) that WSD has adopted called, “I Love You Guys.” This Standard Response Protocol has been widely recommended by law enforcement agencies across the nation as best practice and after careful research and study the Weber Board of Education has adopted this model as our response protocol. This SRP includes a uniform school/classroom response to various school incidents. This SRP is included within the school safety plan and includes four main steps: Lockout, Lockdown, Evacuate, and Shelter. For more information on the “I Love You Guys” program and why it was so named, go to:
Although the goal of Weber School District is to educate children and prepare them to become College & Career ready, we recognize that our highest priority is to ensure the safety of each of our 31,000+ students and all staff members.
Lex L. Puffer
Recently I attended a funeral of a person I held in high esteem. The tributes to this fine lady were well deserved and well spoken.Of all the remarkable achievements this individual had accomplished perhaps the most profound statement to me was a tribute made by her son when he stated that one of the most important things his mother had taught him and given to him was a love of reading.
He humbly declared what a gift that had been in his life and how extremely grateful he was to his mother for always taking the time to read a story to him. Surprisingly, he mentioned that even while in high school his mother would read to him and how he and his mother travelled the world, many time over, through the pages of books.
This past month a few of us at the District Office have had the pleasure of reading to various classes throughout our elementary schools. What joy it has been to see several classes crunch together to hear a story. What fun it has been to see their different expressions as the plots unfold. The discussions after were priceless as each child had their own interpretation of the tale.
In a world of instant media, video game overload and marketing madness, taking time to read to a child verges on the realm of almost being a sacred experience. Our future generations need these moments where the loud world of advertising and enticing messages are held at bay by page turning books that delight and inspire. When we do this we convey far more than the story, we let them know they matter and they are our investment in the future. To be able to expand their minds and take them to far away places is exhilarating. It is one of life’s sweetest pleasures, you have focused time together and you can teach a habit that can open countless doors throughout their lives.
Reading exercises our brains and improves concentration. Reading teaches children about the world around them. Through reading they learn new vocabulary skills, they develop more highly developed language all of which helps in their ability to write, imagine and understand. Harry Truman is credited with the quote “not every reader is a leader, but every leader must be a reader.”
This past summer one of my goals was to locate a book that was read to me by my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Smith. It was called “The Gentle House”. I remember coming in from recess and having her read this book to our class. She would laugh as she recited some of the antics of the family. I remember well how she delighted in turning the pages and watching our class as we went through the chapters. Fortunately, I did locate an old copy. Strangely enough as I have turned the pages it has brought a sense of warmth, comfort and tranquility, after all those years.
If you get the opportunity to read to a child I hope you seize the moment. There’s a reading genre for every person on the planet, classical literature, poetry, biographies, self-help guides, fiction, or non-fiction. I know there will be something out there to capture your curiosity and imagination. When you open a book, especially with a child near by, you have the power to impact their world in infinite ways and while doing so you will replenish your soul.
My Best To You Always,
Recently, the superintendency and a team from the district office visited each elementary school and read to students. This year’s book for upper elementary school children is titled, The Treasure, by Uri Shulevitz. It’s really a book about listening to your heart and pursuing your dreams. After reading the book at Uintah Elementary School, I asked a group of fourth grade children what they believed was the story’s message. One thoughtful young man concluded beautifully, “No dream is too big; no dreamer too small.” I love being taught by children!
Nothing is more vital to our work with young people than to help them explore their passions, develop their talents and pursue their dreams. I love being around children because they are so passionate about their dreams. I once read a poem posted on a teacher’s door that captures the essence of what education can be at its very best—full of infinite possibilities, imagination, and dreams. The poem boldly says to students that no matter where you’ve come from, who you’ve been, or what your circumstances are, when you enter this classroom everything is possible. Written by Jeff Moss, the poem is called, “On the Other Side of the Door.” I’ll quote a few verses,
On the other side of the door
I don’t have to go alone.
If you come, too, we can sail tall ships
And fly where the wind has flown.
We’ll find what we’re looking for
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.
The world has been inspired by one young Pakistani girl, Malala, who was shot last year by the Taliban for her determined efforts to defend girls’ rights to an education. Malala survived the attack and refuses to let her dreams be silenced. Rather, she has become an inspiration to men, women and children around the world. On July 12, 2013, Malala’s sixteenth birthday, she spoke at the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. It was her first public speech since the attack. She said, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” Malala is helping girls comprehend their own dreams of learning and gaining an education. One Pakistani girl said, “Malala has made me realize that there is no limit to my opportunities.” Malala embodies what that insightful fourth grade Uintah student observed, “No dream is too big; no dreamer too small.”
For all of us who are privileged to work with young people every day, we must never forget to nurture their dreams and ambitions. More important than test scores, helping children achieve their fullest potential is our greatest opportunity. I appreciate each of your efforts to make young dreams become reality.
UPDATE ON BOND PROJECTS
On June 26, 2012, residents within the Weber School District boundaries approved a $65 million bond to fund construction improvements to existing facilities and construction of new schools. Construction began in earnest after the election and will continue into 2017. A brief update of the projects is as follows:
Lex L. Puffer
Happy New Year to one and all. During this past week of festivities I had the rare opportunity to do some baking. One of the recipes I was preparing called for cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. It made me smile when I put all these ingredients into the bowl…because whenever you use this delectable combination it is bound to be a taste treat delight. My grandson was “supervising” me and said “Oh, I love cinnamon, put in some extra”. I tried to explain to him that more cinnamon would not help; in fact it would overpower the other spices and the final creation would not taste nearly as pleasant. He had a hard time understanding how this could be possible, why more would not enhance the outcome. It made me contemplate on the concept of balance; balance in all arenas.
Just the previous morning I was driving past a school building quite early. I saw a maintenance crew out removing snow from the parking lot. Later, I drove past a school bus and in the evening I went to our web site to do some emailing. This might seem like an ordinary day, but really when one thinks about it, it is extraordinary. Imagine all the individuals it takes to keep balance in our school district. I have not even touched on the dedication of teachers, administrators, secretaries, office aides, para-professionals, nurses, counselors and so forth. The list is endless and all of these individuals and elements come together every day to keep our schools functioning and in balance. I am indebted to each and every one of you. It is a minor miracle on a daily basis.
I then thought of the balance one attains in receiving a public education. I am a great fan of our school system, although I firmly believe in choice and that parents know what is best for their child, I can’t imagine one could find a better opportunity to bring balance and perspective to a child’s life than a public education. I am the first to admit that the system is not perfect, but neither is life. I once had a father tell me there was no greater foundation for his children than to send them to our schools every day. He felt it was a microcosm of life. He said his youngsters had good days and bad days, teachers that thought his offspring were awesome and teachers that prodded his juveniles to improve. He stated that they had classmates who were great examples and others not so much. They learned of phenomenal ideas and events such as man walking on the moon and yet they were also taught about the Titanic. He expressed his pain when one of his children tried out for the basketball team and was not selected, another lost a class election. But then he voiced that his daughter had painted a portrait that was entered into a regional art show and his son had taken first place at the science fair. Another son sang in the school choir and the boy that had been cut from the basketball team had tried another sport and he was finding great enjoyment and success. Ironically, the day I was talking with this father his youngest child, in kindergarten, was in the principal’s office for throwing snowballs at unsuspecting classmates. It was interesting to get his perspective of balance within our school system, he was grateful for the ups and downs as he firmly believed his children would be well prepared for their life ahead in our changing, challenging and amazing world.
Robert Fulghum who wrote the book, “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” wrote, “Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some”.
As we start this New Year, I thank you all for your dedicated service, for your unselfish acts of goodness and kindness, for what you do to make Weber School District such an excellent institution of learning. I wish all of you the best, may you find peace, happiness and balance.