Family First

As a school administrator there have been many times when I have encouraged those I supervise to put their family first. As a principal, I covered teachers’ classrooms so they could slip out to visit their own child’s classroom for a special event.  As a human resources administrator, I approved personal time so employees could accompany their child as they moved to college for the first time. As a superintendent, I strive to protect educators from feeling like they have to be available to students and parents 24/7.

Over the past 25 years, I have not always modeled what I encourage. I have sent my wife to attend parent/teacher conferences alone. I missed moving my son into the dorms his freshman year of college. I said, “I just can’t this year,” when my youngest asked me to be a Watch D.O.G.S. ( Dads of Great Students) volunteer at his school. I look back, with regret on what my own family has sacrificed so I could serve other families.

I write this blog today because in the past three weeks, my family’s life has been forever changed, and I feel it is important to share our story so people can understand why I am working to give myself permission to put my family first.

Wednesday, August 26, my wife had a laparoscopic surgery which resulted in a cancer diagnosis. Two days later, we received a more specific diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma. As we spent Saturday, August 29 wrapping our minds around this news, our son Calhoun experienced a health crisis leading to an ambulance ride to Rochester, and at 3:00 am Sunday, August 30, the pediatric ICU physician told me Calhoun was a type I diabetic. We spent the next three days at Saint Mary’s Hospital receiving a crash course in managing type I diabetes.

Cal was discharged at about 7:00 pm Tuesday, September 1. We drove home from Rochester, and gave my mother-in-law a quick tutorial in how to check blood sugar and administer insulin injections. This quick training was necessary because she would be managing Cal’s first day home as a type I diabetic, because Carla had to be back in Rochester for her first oncology appointment at 6:45 am Wednesday, September 2.

We slept for a few hours and then headed out for our return trip to Mayo. After checking in, Carla and I sat in the 10th floor waiting room of the Gonda Building providing FaceTime coaching for Calhoun’s first at-home blood sugar check and insulin injection. While Cal did have to say, “no that’s not right Granny,” in the end, grandma was successful.

After the appointment, Carla and I got back in the car to head home to Decorah. As we were on our way home, we stopped along the way at a highway 52 roadside parking area with a canoe/kayak launch on the Root River. This felt like the first moment we could actually breath and talk in days. We spent about an hour sitting on the bank of the river processing all that had happened over past five days. We cried.

Since that day, I have added things to my calendar. I have added appointments with Calhoun’s diabetic dietician, and his endocrinologist. I have added Carla’s chemotherapy appointments. I have also added a couple vacation days so Carla and I can take a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to experience the fall colors.

I am incredibly grateful to our school board members and to my co-workers who have encouraged me to put my family first, and to take this time. I am also grateful to my wife, Carla, and my children, Savannah, Will, and Calhoun who understand how hard it is for me to turn my educator brain off. For 25 years, their grace, forgiveness, and willingness to share me with whatever school district I serve has been amazing.

I share this blog today to let people know that as a husband, father, and superintendent, I am a work in progress. In every aspect of my life, I am working to figure out my new normal.

 

 

 

You need us soon; We need you now

Friday July 10, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, the American Association of School Administrators (the School Superintendents Association) released a joint statement urging a safe return to school for the 2020-2021 academic year. The organizations stated in part, “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers, and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

As school leaders we heartily agree with this sentiment. We firmly believe in the power of learning built on a foundation of relationships and social interaction.  We also recognize that the ability for children to physically attend school allows our local workforce to function and our community to thrive.  We want to see our students in our hallways and classrooms, on our stages, and on our fields and gym floors.  We want to share in the joy of community building and learning together.  Yet, we also see the great risks presented to our students, staff, and families if we aren’t purposeful, diligent, and consistent in practicing essential COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and practices.

Today, we must recognize that cause and effect are almost never closely related in time. As a community, the decisions we make–and the actions we take–over the next four to six weeks can either greatly increase or drastically reduce the likelihood of any on-site learning for our students in August and September.  We know parents, employers, and our students want our schools to reopen.  We need everyone in our community to take purposeful steps to make that happen.

Here are simple steps we can all take to maximize the potential for reopening our schools:

Protect yourself and others from COVID-19

  • Stay home as much as possible and avoid close contact with others.
  • Wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth in public settings.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Practice social distancing 

  • Buy groceries and medicine, go to the doctor, and complete banking activities online when possible.
  • If you must go in person, stay at least 6 feet away from others and disinfect items you must touch.
  • Get deliveries and takeout, and limit in-person contact as much as possible.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick 

  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and pets in your home.

Recent Winneshiek County history shows us the impact of our collective action.  Between May 30 and June 27, our county logged zero new positive cases of COVID-19.  Since June 28, our county has logged 26 new cases.  A June 10 Governor’s Proclamation lifting restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings, social gatherings around the Fourth of July holiday, and increased summer travel are all likely contributing factors to the return of positive cases to our county.

We still have the power to change our trajectory, to right our path, and to take the actions necessary to make on-site learning a reality for this school year.  We know our parents, students, and community need us soon.  Today, we are saying we need you now.  Thank you for your support of Decorah Schools, and thank you for doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Ron Fadness, Decorah Community School District Board of Education President

Mark Lane, Decorah Community School District Superintendent of Schools

Steve Peterson, Decorah Education Association President

What Can I do About This?

The absolute best thing about working in PK-12 education is getting to believe that you are surrounded by young people who will make the world a better place.  When I visit a classroom, I am always struck by a sense that these are humans who will know better, and do better than generations who have come before them.

As I watch the world around me this weekend, I am disheartened knowing our schools play an integral role in maintaining the status quo of privilege and oppression fueling this sadness, pain, fear, rage, violence, apathy, and hate.

In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire wrote, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

I read this quote, and I can see both the reality of the system in which I work, and the dreams of the people with whom I work.

I work with people filled with empathy, but our institution feels cold and uncaring.  I work with people who just want to serve students, but our system labels, sorts, and ranks.  I work with people who believe each child has capacity for greatness, but I work in a system that says, no child left behind out of one side of it’s mouth, and then funds and supports public education in a way that clearly says we are comfortable with this not working out for a certain percentage of children out of the other.

I have been in a mental struggle with these issues my entire educational career.  I see that our system is part of the problem, which causes me to believe that we have to look to our system as the solution.  The murder of George Floyd, and the peaceful protests and angry riots that have followed have brought me back to the question, what can I do about this.

I believe the answer is learn, learn to be better, learn to continually recognize privilege, oppression, marginalization, bias and hate. Learn to point it out, and to take action to stop it.

When I woke up this morning, I reread James Baldwin’s A Letter to my Nephew.  If you’ve never read it, I hope you will today, and if you have read it, I hope you will read it again.

As I read today, the line that struck me the deepest was, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (Baldwin, 1962).

More than 30 years after Baldwin’s letter, Dr. Roberta Harro produced graphic representations of exactly what Baldwin was saying in this quote, the Cycle of Socialization, and the Cycle of Liberation.

In the article The Cycle of Socialization, Harro explains that we are born into a specific set of social identities, and that they predispose us to unequal roles in the system of oppression. “We are then socialized by powerful sources in our worlds to play the roles prescribed by an inequitable social system” (Harro, 1997).

In the article The Cycle of Liberation, Harro explains we have the power to make a conscious break from the cycle of socialization, and to engage in a new path. “As people come to a critical level of understanding of the nature of oppression and their roles in this systemic phenomenon, they seek new paths for creating social change and taking themselves toward empowerment and liberation” (Harro, 1997).

I feel lucky to live and work in a community where so many have made the conscious decision to make a break from the churn of the Cycle of Socialization.  Yet, I know hate, marginalization, and oppression happen in our schools, and in our town.

My favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Isbell, recently released a new album, and one of the songs on the album is called What’ve I Done to Help.  The third verse of the song states:

Climb to safety, you and me and the baby
Send our thoughts and prayers to loved ones on the ground
And as the days went by we just stopped looking down, down, down
The world’s on fire and we just climb higher
‘Til we’re no longer bothered by the smoke and sound
Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher
Nothing given, nothing found

What’ve I done to help?

Today, I reaffirm my pledge to do something to help.  I will recognize my privilege, I will recognize my biases, I will be an anti-racist, I will be anti-homophobic, I will strive for equity and access, and I will make the educational system better than it has been.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you will take some time to examine the Cycles of Socialization and Liberation below, and to ask yourself the question, how might I see my life reflected in these cycles.

 

How we Planned for Continuous Learning

I have received a few questions about the results of the continuous learning survey we sent out to parents, and how we went about making a decision about our continuous learning model.   While a great deal of work went into the decision, I want to share a few key pieces of our work.

We began with the creation of a logic model; a graphic representation of a complex issue, problem, or process.  This was an important step because it allowed us to maintain a focus on our priorities, and key short, medium, and long-term desired outcomes.

We also brought together a representative group of district stakeholders (two board members, administrators, TLC team members, and teachers) to work through several quality/continual improvement processing tools focused on key questions and best practice in continuous learning.  You can access the agenda for that meeting at the link below in order to gain a deeper understanding of what occurred.

DCSD Continuous Learning Prep Meeting Agenda

Additionally, we asked for feedback from parents. You can review combined district results, and building specific results by clicking through the Google slides below.

As a district, we recently went through a process to renew our mission, vision, and values.  My hope is that as you review the process we used to make a decision, and plan for emergency closure continuous learning, you will see evidence of our newly established values.  We believe these are more than just words; we want to live our values through our daily work.

Decorah Community School District is guided by the following core values:

Collaboration and Community – We believe collaboration and community partnerships promote innovation and shared responsibility.

Curiosity and CreativityWe believe curiosity and creativity lead to meaningful learning.

Engagement and ExcellenceWe believe engagement and excellence foster personal ownership, and pride and joy in work and learning.

Equity and Well-beingWe believe equity and well-being ensure a safe learning environment, a sense of belonging, and student success.

Integrity and HumilityWe believe integrity and humility create respectful, trusting relationships.

Stewardship and SustainabilityWe believe stewardship and sustainability promote efficient and effective operations now and in the future.

Thank you to the parents who provided feedback through our surveys, and thank you to our staff who worked collaboratively to meet the needs of our students and families in this unique time.

DCSD Continuous Learning Communication

On Thursday, April 2, 2020 Governor Kim Reynolds determined that it is in the public health interest of the state for Iowa schools to remain closed through Thursday, April 30, 2020.  To help districts and nonpublic schools accommodate student and family needs as flexibly as possible, the Iowa Department of Education has provided guidance on school closures and continuous learning.

Decorah Community School District received this new guidance Friday, March 27, 2020, and in anticipation of the extension of the emergency closure, began work to develop a systemic approach to serving our students and families.  Iowa school districts may consider three approaches to the emergency closure. School districts are required to report which option, or blend of options, have been selected by April 10, 2020.  The three options are:

  • Schools Closed and No Services Provided
  • Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities Provided
  • Required Educational Services Provided

We feel a responsibility to continue to support the learning and well-being of our students.  Therefore, the district will provide a combination of Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities for students in early childhood through grade 8, and Required Educational Services for students in grades 9 through 12.

The primary reason for the decision to provide this blended approach is our desire to enable all current high school students to receive credit for their school work, and to remain on track toward earning all the credits necessary to graduate high school college and/or career ready.  Credit accrual is unique to high school; therefore, the district will not submit an application to the Iowa Department of Education to provide Required Educational Services for early childhood through grade 8.

While the district is blending Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities and Required Educational Services, there will be little difference in the actual day-to-day experience for students and families.  The comparison table provided below answers key questions for both Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities and Required Educational Services.

You should expect to receive building specific communication from principals by the end of the day Friday.  This communication will provide details about how students and families can access the DCSD Continuous Online Learning website, details about grade level appropriate expectations for learners, and contact information for questions.

Please be aware that since Friday and Monday were previously scheduled no school days for staff and students, we will not be asking teachers or students to engage in any continuous learning activities next Monday, April 13.  Continuous Learning will begin Tuesday, April 14.

While the DCSD Continuous Learning site is still in the final stages of development, I want to share some information about how the District will be sharing Learning Opportunities and Required Services.  When we begin services families will receive a link to the DCSD Continuous Learning Website pictured below.  This page will be the starting point for all grade levels.  The first step for students and families will be to click on their building.

You will then be directed to a page that looks like this, and each grade level will be accessible for further exploration.

Here is an example of a page within the Decorah High School Continuous Learning site.  This page gives details about when teachers will be accessible for a video conference, or telephone call to answer questions, or provide support to students or parents.

I am thankful for the quick and thoughtful work our principals and teachers have put into providing continuous learning for our students.  We expect that we will need to make adjustments and improvements to our approach in the days and weeks to come.  Please know our primary focus is supporting the learning and well-being of our students, and we will do everything possible to ensure that the emergency closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic does not have a detrimental impact on any student.

Don’t forget to watch for building specific communication from your principal on Friday.

Thank you for your support of Decorah Schools.

Mark M. Lane, Superintendent of Schools

Living Our Mission

Over the past six months, Decorah Community School District has engaged in a process of redefining our shared mission, vision, and values.  I never could have imagined that what we say we are all about would be put to the test as quickly, and unpredictably as it was this week.

Mission: The organization’s overall function

  • Why does DCSD exist?
  • What is our fundamental purpose?
  • Who and what are we all about?

After multiple rounds of staff input and feedback, I recently presented a new mission statement to the Decorah Board of Education, Learning – Thriving – Creating Our Legacy.   

When we share this mission statement we are saying to our community  that at Decorah CSD we embrace student learning and well-being as our fundamental purpose; we will, in partnership with our students, families, and community, make the world a better place.

In the past five days, I have witnessed countless examples of our staff, board of directors, families, and community bringing this new mission to life.  We have rallied together to create a legacy of care for neighbors.  We have given of ourselves in ways that support others’ health and well-being.  We have considered our duty to support equitable learning opportunities in unpredictable circumstances. We have partner selflessly to maintain some sense of security and calm for our peers.

I do not know what the next few weeks and months will bring, but I am confident that years from now, we will look back on the COVID-19 crisis, and remember a time when we did truly create our legacy.

I invite you to review our newly proposed mission, vision, and values below.  These statements will be presented for approval to the Decorah CSD Board of Education at our April 13 meeting.  I look forward to the opportunity to describe how we have, and will continue to bring these words to life through service to our students, families, community, and each other.

 

 

 

 

2019 Iowa School Performance Profile Results Rollout

At the end of January, the Iowa Department of Education opened public access to the 2019 Iowa School Performance Profiles website.  The Performance Profiles website is an online tool showing how public schools have performed on certain measures. The website includes district and school scores, ratings, and data.  The Iowa Department of Education updates the Performance Profiles website annually.

You can visit the Iowa School Performance Profiles website at iaschoolperformance.gov.

I encourage you to watch the video below to gain insights into how district and school performance profiles are created, and strengths and opportunities for improvement within Decorah Community School District results.

The Iowa Department of Education has provided a helpful fact sheet regarding Iowa School Performance Profiles.  You can find the fact sheet here.

The Iowa School Performance Profile System was designed to meet accountability standards in the federal  Every Student Succeeds Act.  You can learn more about how Iowa meets federal public education requirements here.

The links below will take you to our district and building specific profiles.

Thank you for taking some time to understand the Iowa School Performance Profile system, and how we use the system to continually improve our district.

State Supplemental Aid Matters…A Lot

Back on October 1, 2019, I shared a blog titled Count Day Matters…A Lot.  In that blog I described the critical role student enrollment plays in school funding and budget development.

Today, I want to address another critical piece of the school funding formula, Annual Per Pupil Cost.  Each student enrolled in our district generates a specific amount of money.  For the 2019-2020 school year, that amount is $6900.00.  In order to maintain effective operations, and quality services for our students, it is critical that Annual Per Pupil Cost increases at a rate that keeps pace with the natural increases in our expenditures.  For example, when your electricity rates increase, our electricity rates increase; when you are spending more on gas, we are spending more on gas.

Setting a percentage increase for Annual Per Pupil Cost is a function of the Iowa Legislature.  Each year, the legislature sets a percentage increase for State Supplemental Aid (SSA).  That percentage increase is applied to the current Per Pupil Cost, and that new number allows school business managers and superintendents to begin the task of building a budget for the next school year.

The last five years have not enabled school district budget growth to keep pace with the natural increases in the cost of doing business.  The graph below shows the past 20 years of percentage increases in annual per pupil funding.  The graph also shows 15 years of five-year rolling averages.  You can see that the five-year rolling average is currently at the lowest point.  We have to do better as a state in providing this basic funding for our schools.

But Wait, I Read an Article About “Historic” Funding of Education

In recent years, Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds, and the Iowa Legislature have talked about historic investments in education.  We hear numbers like $150 million dollars for Teacher Leaders and Compensation Programs, or “calling for $103 million dollars for education,” as mentioned in Governor Reynolds’ 2020 Condition of the State Address.  Unfortunately, many recent funding increases have been to categorical funds which can only be spent in certain ways.  These categorical increases reduce the local control of school boards, and can lead to significant surpluses in certain funds, while we struggle to have a General Fund that meets our basic needs.

While we appreciate the intent of the governor and legislature when they approve categorical funds, adequate increases to State Supplemental Aid empower local school boards and educators, and make the greatest difference in purposeful budget planning.

This year, School Administrators of Iowa, an organization of which I am a member, and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, an organization of which our school district is a member, are calling for the percent increase to State Supplemental Aid to be set no lower than 3.75%.  I will advocate strongly with our elected officials for this percentage of growth, but your voices are what can truly make the greatest difference.

I encourage you to follow Parents for Great Iowa Public Schools.   You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  They are a great source of information about how parents and community members can advocate for their local schools.

Additionally, I am always happy to talk with parents and community members about our local context, and how the actions of the legislature might impact our district.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support of Decorah Schools!

DCSD Condition of the District

Almost a year ago, I came to Decorah to interview to be the next superintendent of schools.  When I was invited to interview I was told I should be prepared to present an entry plan to the board of directors.  I could prepare a handout for the entry plan presentation, but I was told they did not want a Power Point presentation.  The handout I prepared began by communicating my purpose, and how I intended to present information back to the board about what was learned through deployment of the plan.

Since starting work July 1, I have engaged in a variety of activities designed to do what I told the board I would do during the interview process.  Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to have a mid-year check-in with our board members, and I shared a bone diagram capturing key elements of what I think I have learned.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, our Decorah Community School District staff met in the DHS Auditorium for a Condition of the District presentation.  We dedicated one of our late start Wednesday mornings to learning key information about who we are as a system.

I think it is important that our community be aware of these key desired outcomes as well.  Therefore, I invite you to watch a summary what was shared with staff using the video below.

Much of the work that is described in the video will be done in order to bring greater clarity to the shared why, how, and what of continually improving our Decorah CSD system.  As we do this work we will strive for transparency in our efforts, and to provide ongoing communication to you our stakeholders.

To that end, I am sharing a working document that is guiding our efforts to ensure we are creating a great environment for our employees to work, and for our students to learn.

Thank you for your continued support of Decorah Community Schools!

A New Era in Statewide Assessment

Back in 2013, the Iowa Legislature, and Governor Terry Branstad dedicated a great deal of time to passing education reform legislation.  Key aspects of the legislation introduced alternative career pathways for educators through Teacher Leadership and Compensation programming; the Iowa School Performance Profile website; and task forces to study teacher and administrator professional growth and evaluation frameworks, and a potential new statewide assessment of student achievement.

In August of 2013, I was working with Urbandale Community School District, and I was invited to serve as a member on the state assessment task force.  It was a great opportunity to work with amazing people from across our state who truly shared passion for doing what was best for Iowa students.

This brief history lesson is not the purpose for this blog, but I think it is important to provide a little context for where we are now, six years later.

This past spring Iowa students in grades 3 through 11 took the new Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress for the first time.  Iowa educators have been anxiously awaiting access to results from this first administration, and we expect to receive our results next week.  As the release of results has approached, the Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Testing Program, at the University of Iowa, have been sharing information with school administrators.  The graphic below is a snapshot of important information that will help educators, parents, and students understand results from the new tests.

The Iowa Department of Education has provided this fact sheet about the new Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP).

There are some key takeaways I hope everyone will keep in mind as we digest results from the first ISASP administration.

  1. A standardized test administered once a year is only one piece of a full body of evidence educators and parents should consider when evaluating students’ academic performance.  Results should be viewed interdependently with additional assessment results, and examples of student performance and work.  Whether a standardized test score is high, or low, overreacting to a single score is never in the best interest of a student.
  2. We will see overall scores across the state go down.  When our state introduced the Iowa Core Curriculum, and Next Generation Science Standards, the intent was to raise the bar in what we expected students to know, and be able to do.  Several research studies completed between 2012 and 2014 demonstrated that the old Iowa Assessment was not well-aligned to those new standards, and that a new, more highly-aligned assessment was needed.  The ISASP tests were developed and evaluated collaboratively by Iowa Testing Program and Iowa teachers.  More rigorous standards require a more rigorous test, and we will now have access to better-aligned results about what our students know and are able to do.
  3. Iowa schools and students will demonstrate growth in knowledge and skills in coming years.  This first administration is establishing a new baseline for schools across our state.  As a school district, we will examine our results for strengths and opportunities for improvement.  We will then do what we have always done, engage our educators in working collaboratively to provide Decorah students with a world-class education.

After we receive results, we will deploy additional communication and dissemination plans, and families will receive more building and/or grade specific communication on interpreting results.  If you have questions about the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress I would be happy to discuss the topic.  As a member of the initial task force, I have a great deal of background knowledge on the test, and how we got where we are today.  Once you receive results, if you have questions, I encourage you to reach out to your building principal, and they can assist you, or direct you to the appropriate person.

Thank you for your support and partnership!