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Welcome Back2School Letter

Back2School Letter
Dear Bedford Central School District Parents and Community (this appeared in the August 24, 2012 Record Review

Every single student, every single day!

No doubt you have seen that phrase on our website, on letterheads, or in email responses. It is not our “official” mission statement. It is not one of those lofty “…to nurture students to maximize their potential acquiring 21st century skills and to become critically thinking problem-solvers…” mission statements.

The work of our school district is understandably complex. That complexity is supported by guiding principles and policy, sound infrastructure and fiscal prudence, regulatory compliance, and effective two-way communication. Upon those, our goals for every student’s academic success and sense of belonging are built – with results. How? We work on our mission, every single day.

“Every single student.” It is our litmus test, our marching orders, our mission and purpose. It is what we expect to see in every classroom and school setting. It is the reason we chose to become teachers or chose to work in a school district.

Every student, all students… getting their fingernails dirty working in gardens, climbing and crawling, and performing science experiments. All students reading thick books and intriguing poetry, taking initiative, calculating, singing, writing, presenting, speaking, and researching. All students analyzing history, current events, and the future. All students being and feeling safe, working and playing well with others and… learning.

Every single student… engaged, connected, and learning.

The Bedford Central School District embraces over 4,300 students from five towns and villages; students all over the socio-economic strata; students with an array of interests and experiences; remarkable students who take risks, make and learn from mistakes, and achieve quiet and great accomplishments. The Class of 2013 and the Class of 2025 are in the same school district preparing to walk on the path to an unknown future. It doesn’t get better than that!

We have the success stories, the anecdotes, and the data to support that we are on course – and we report these to our Board and public throughout the year. We observe students learning to cooperate on the playground in kindergarten, dissecting frogs (real or virtual) in middle school, and engaging in Socratic seminars in high school. We observe their success in classrooms, on stages, on playing fields, and in common spaces. We are as proud of the array of colleges and universities our graduates attend across the country as we are with the superior rate of college acceptance. And, test scores are well above state averages while we maintain a real and rigorous curriculum and what I affectionately (and nostalgically) call “School the Way it Oughta Be.”

As expected, I receive letters periodically when the “every student” phrase is thrown back at me. “I read your mission statement about ‘every student’ and I have a complaint.” Understood. In spite of all of our planning and preparation, we challenge ourselves knowing that we are not batting a thousand.

Are we successful with every single student, daily? Not yet. Our highest achieving students can explore and discover more deeply in subjects and causes for which they are passionate and also in areas that are not their strengths, but subjects worthy of their exploration. Our students “in the middle” can be challenged even more as we learn their interests and make school as relevant as can be. And, we have students who struggle, students we know can be more successful as we connect the dots for their success.

Are there anomalies in our standardized test results? Yes. We are analyzing those results by student, by grade level, by school, and by subject in order to accelerate learning for all. Are we void of students who tease or even bully others? No. We continue to learn and are implementing a district-wide program to provide consistency in our response and language. Have we kept taxes low enough (under 2% or the “tax cap” for four years in a row) to everyone’s satisfaction? Probably not. Still, in the face of legislative, financial, and political obstacles, we have demonstrated that we take our responsibility for accountability and efficiency seriously while preserving the high expectations our community has for our students.

These challenges, our mission, and enacting public education inspire us.

The best part about public education is it is real. Public schools not only teach democracy and are guided by the principles of a democracy, public education is democracy-in-action. As exemplified in Bedford Central, public schools are the last bastion of participatory governance, “local control,” and citizen voices being heard. Public education is an elected Board of Education with individuals who take the role of “trustee” quite seriously, an involved community, a budget voted upon by the people, and a playing field that provides access for all.

Public schools are the microcosms of America and its evolution from pockets of homogeneity to inclusion; schools where children as different as can be learn and work and play together, and schools where all children can and will be challenged… wait for it… to reach their maximum academic potential, to fulfill their interests, and to pursue their dreams on the same playing field. Yes, “every” means every, not some.

And, the best part of public education is that it is a constant, consistent, and dynamic work-in-progress. So, from a district-wide perspective, what is on the proverbial front burner in your Bedford Central School District this year?

Our 2012-2013 school year is focused on the annual “next steps” to achieve the highest levels of success for every student; professional work; efficient and productive operations; and leadership, governance, and community involvement.

Highest Levels of Student Success:

• Implement the newly adopted (K-5) mathematics curriculum and reading initiatives and authentic assessments of learning in all-subjects (K-12)

• Assess the college application process, implement a homework policy, and develop a testing and assessment policy and stance

• Research, design, and implement a revised high school master schedule and elementary and middle school allocation of time to enhance student learning

• Implement new initiatives and programs to close the achievement gap for students achieving below state averages: Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID college readiness program), The Tripod Project (Harvard Kennedy School research), and others

• Inform and support students seeking deferred action through executive order regarding immigration

• Implement the Dignity Act and the district anti-bullying policy

• Begin collective bargaining with the Bedford Teachers Association

Highest Levels of Professional Work

• Implement the new Annual Professional Performance teacher and principal evaluation process • Engage every teacher and principal to achieve a school/district goal of accelerating every student’s literacy • Align staff development with current academic initiatives and reduce teacher-substitute days

Highest Levels of Efficient and Productive Operations

• Complete the design of the district’s next “10-year” Capital Plan • Complete asbestos tile removal in three buildings • Implement the new 5-year transportation contract • Generate significant energy savings

• Maximize utilization of academic and managerial technologies and system upgrades

• Reorganize Human Resources and implementation of critical data base systems

Highest Levels of Leadership, Governance, and Community Involvement

• Continued community involvement and input on all major district initiatives (Capital Plan, Annual Budget, Board of Education Policy, and others) • Maintain a firm stance on public school district local control

• Advocate for BCSD students and district on relevant state and federal education policy and legislation and on New York “Commissioner’s Regulations”

From academic achievement to activities and athletics to asbestos removal to annual audits and inspections, the work of our school district is understandably complex. Our focus is remarkable education that is supported by guiding principles and policy, research and best practice, sound infrastructure and regulatory compliance, professionalism and communications. For those areas, our goals are to be productive, efficient, and prudent. And, in the end, yes, our mission is simple: Success for every student. Period.