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Yearly Archives: 2015

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Promises of Technology

Here’s a link to the whole newsletter that includes a calendar for September and October, pictures, and information about our students’ use of technology.

Alma Intermediate School Newsletter for September, 2015

From the Principal… 

Some of the wild predictions made about the future when I was younger have not come true. There was a lot of concern about how we would spend all of the free time caused by technology and modern conveniences. They really missed the boat on that one. There were also predictions about transportation and health that have proved to be greater challenges than estimated.

However, when I look back just 20 years, it’s amazing to see the pace of change. Music that I used to play on vinyl records or cassette tapes is now stored on my iPod, which holds my whole collection of music, podcasts, and audiobooks. I carry a phone that is a small computer. With it I can send and receive emails, access the Internet, read books, text directly to anyone in my contacts and….make phone calls. One of my favorite devices is my e-reader that holds many books and allows me to carry a library of resources in my backpack.

The students in our school have never known a time when this technology that astounds me didn’t exist. What does the future of technology hold for us and our students? Will we lose our balance and fail to maintain strong relationships with others in our community as we rely more and more on technology? Will we settle for a constant drivel of disconnected information or strive for deep understanding with a cautious approach to the sources of our information?

Our hope is that we will help students use technology as a tool to increase and enrich our communication with others and solve complex problems now and in the future. On the back page of this newsletter is a portion of an article sharing just a couple of ways we involve students with technology at AIS.

Alma Intermediate School August Newsletter – A Child’s Future Comes Quickly

From the Principal…

It finally happened! There stood a former student, syringe in hand, ready to administer an immunization in my arm. She recognized me and must have seen my expression because she said, “I’ve given a lot of these so you know I’ve had some practice.” I laughed and told her this is just one of the many reasons it’s wise to be nice to your students. They grow up!  And sometimes they’re holding a medical needle the next time you see them.

When I first started teaching, it felt like we were preparing students for some far off future. Now, the future seems much closer. Every minute of learning time is important. When students are active learners, many more options are available to them as they move through life.

Daughters a few short years ago.

Daughters a few short years ago.

I’ve experienced this sense of urgency as a teacher and a parent. A short time ago, my daughters were in elementary school. Today they are grown, doing work that they find rewarding, and making a positive difference in the world. As a parent, I’m thankful and realize how important every stage of their education was on their path toward adulthood.

Daughters all grown up shown here with my parents and new son-in-law.

Daughters all grown up shown here with my parents and our new son-in-law.

At AIS, our goal is to squeeze as much learning as possible into grades 3, 4, and 5. Our mission is to prepare students for successful living, now and in the future, a future that will come quickly.

Thank you for giving us the honor of working with your child. We look forward to building strong relationships with our students and watching their success and growth as they move forward.

The following link will open our school newsletter.

Intermediate School August Newsletter

Happy Birthday to My Mother

Mother and Daddy in 1956

Mother and Daddy in 1956

My mother’s birthday is coming up, and I’ve been thinking about what she’s given to her family and community. Some of my earliest memories are of a mother who was kind, giving, and a friend to all. She and my father got married just before he went to Korea. Their friends collected flowers from homes in Arkadelphia, and they borrowed a wedding arch for the ceremony. Mother worked hard and fast to complete college at Ouachita before my dad got out of the Army and then they began their life together. After teaching a year in South Texas, they moved to El Dorado where I was raised and they still live today.

Jimmy and Elsie Warnock

Jimmy and Elsie Warnock

Their first house payment was $80.00 a month, and she worried about how they would meet that cost every month. They weathered a few hard times along the way but never failed to provide for the needs of their two children. Today, they remain independent in their 80s and continue to serve their community. Mother was a great teacher in public school and at home. She is still a learner today. She often shares new tricks she’s learned on the computer or something she’s read.

I have many memories of sitting with mother in church. Maybe this was because of my restlessness and occasional behavior problems during services. One thing she sometimes did that was annoying at the time was lick her hand and press my hair down. The memory of that is far from annoying, now a special symbol of the attention she gave to my sister and me.

Below is a link to that simple song Becca and I did for her several years ago. It is still true today! “You’ve given hope, you’ve given dreams and helped them come true.” Thank you for your love and commitment. Happy birthday! We love you!

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock

Click this link if you want to hear a somewhat sentimental, but heartfelt, song about the love of a mother.

Mother’s Love

Alma Intermediate School News – April, 2015

Alma Intermediate School News April, 2015

A lot of good things are happening at Alma Intermediate School! I’m thankful for our staff, students, and parents!

I spent some time this month thinking about my personal mission and vision, asking myself if I’m staying true to what I believe about teaching and learning. The link above should give you access to our newsletter.

From the Principal:

What we believe about teaching and learning plays a big part in students’ results. When I interview candidates for teaching positions, their core beliefs and work ethic are essential. If the beliefs are solid, the teaching skills needed will rise to meet those beliefs. The same applies to me as a principal. Every year I look at what I believe as a teacher and a principal. My hope is that the following words will act as a filter for every decision and action as I work with others in our school.

Professional Mission Statement:

  • I believe that educators have the power to change the direction of young lives and have a positive effect on the lives of future generations.  Learning is a joyous and never ending process that leads to successful living and has a positive impact on our families and communities.  I must set the example as a lifelong learner if I expect students and teachers to be continuous learners.
  • Teaching and learning require planning, enthusiasm, desire, time and effort. I have great respect and appreciation for teachers and their work. 
  • As a school principal, I am ultimately responsible for the learning and safety of our students.  Only by working with every part of the community can I meet this responsibility.  Working together we can provide the best possible education for all of our children.

Vision 

  • AIS will demonstrate high levels of student engagement in learning every day.  Learning will be demonstrated in meaningful and public ways.  
  • AIS will be a community of learners actively sharing and collaborating to increase student learning so that best strategies spread.
  • AIS will be a joyful place where student needs are the focus.  The emotional, academic, physical and spiritual needs of students and adults will be met through continuous learning.  Accomplishments, both personal and professional, will be recognized and celebrated.
  • Students will make great gains academically.  Advancing in academic achievement will be the norm.
  • The arts and creativity will be displayed publicly and recognized as academic accomplishments.

PARCC – The True Costs

PARCC_computer

What follows is a letter I wrote to my state legislator a few weeks ago. She listened and was positive in her response and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to make the best of PARCC testing and to make it as doable as possible for teachers and students. I decided to share the following letter more widely after watching our first three days of PARCC testing.

We intend to see this testing through because much has been invested in training and preparation by students and adults. Completing this task is also our job. Hopefully, this is a learning experience that will help us avoid repeating this type of testing again.


I’ll begin with a disclaimer. I am not a statistician or state policy expert. I am a school principal with ten years of teaching experience prior to becoming a principal.  My views on the cost of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) are from the school level, observing teachers and students every day in the classroom.

I apologize for stating the following “qualifications,” but want to make it clear that I take education seriously, expecting accountability from students, teachers, and myself. In 2006, I was selected as a National Distinguished Principal representing the state of Arkansas.  I’ve completed Phase III of the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Principal Institute and have served as president of our state’s elementary principal association and more recently, the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators in 2013-14. We, along with the other schools in our district, received rave reviews from the AdvancEd team site visit last year. We embrace accountability!

I recently wrote a short history of assessment in Arkansas for our parents, trying to frame PARCC in positive terms with hopes that we will see changes. After taking students through the Infrastructure PARCC practice, I am now truly appalled at how we are going to assess students in Arkansas. Implementing the Benchmark Exam was a challenge, but doable, and its use has helped us make great gains in Arkansas. I supported the implementation of more rigorous assessments and became deeply involved in working to improve students’ reading, writing and problem solving skills. I see value in the Common Core State Standards and have supported their implementation in spite of occasional pushback from stakeholders. The implementation of PARCC takes us to a sad place in Arkansas schools.

The cost per student for the PARCC is $23.97 plus a small administrative fee according to the PARCC website. The true costs of PARCC are incalculable and depend on many factors at the local school level.

For several years, school districts have made their best guesses on what technology would be needed for PARCC assessments, and millions of dollars have been wasted in some districts. Information from Pearson to district technology specialists has changed over time, causing false starts and inefficient use of funds as districts tried to anticipate and prepare for future needs.

The PARCC is costing our students immense losses in learning content and quality. Schools are trying to teach students specific technology skills simply so they can take the PARCC. These technology skills are not occurring at developmentally appropriate times for students. Many states have been giving computer-based assessments for several years, but these tests did not require students in the third grade to toggle between multiple pages and passages to answer a question. The PARCC requires keyboarding skills that are not appropriate for 8-12-year-old children.

The testing window is costing instructional time in an already short school year. The Performance Based Assessments (PBA) window is March 9 – April 9. It will take four weeks if the weather cooperates, for our school to work through the first round of PARCC due to limited number of computer labs and a desire to avoid exhausting students with all-day testing.

The End of Year (EOY) assessment window is April 27-May 22.  It will take our school two uninterrupted weeks to complete this assessment with all of our students. Together, testing will occupy six weeks on our campus if there are no unforeseen interruptions. On any given day, rather than students acquiring technology skills needed for their future, computer labs will be occupied by students taking the PARCC. Long testing windows will cause instructional schedules to be in flux during these weeks, complicating lesson planning and the orderly sequence of instruction.

For a high school principal’s view of PARCC with a focus on instructional disruption I recommend the following: Surely You Can’t Be Serious by Mikkel Storaasli

PARCC Costs in terms of positive school environment:

School personnel are being misused because of PARCC. Our school is grades 3-5, so all grade levels are tested. Our assistant principal and literacy intervention teacher have spent countless hours developing a schedule that allows students to complete the PARCC. Our counselor has spent hours preparing for PARCC administration and training teachers to administer the PARCC. Meeting the psychological and emotional needs of students is more challenging because of the divided attention from all of these staff members.

As principal, I assist with test preparations but a larger amount of my time is dedicated to implementing a new statewide teacher evaluation system currently in its first year. During teacher observations and evaluations I have been focused on trying to provide encouragement for students and teachers facing an unreasonably difficult and developmentally inappropriate high-stakes tests.

Charlotte Danielson’s comment in Education Week about these new assessments is revealing: I’m concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck there. The test items I’ve seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I’m not sure that I would pass it—and I’ve got a bunch of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools we’ll have 80 percent or some large number of students failing. That’s what I mean by train wreck.

Go to the following link for information on the readability levels of PARCC and why most children will “fail” the PARCC.

Other countries we envy are not administering PARCC-like assessments. They are elevating teacher professionalism and pedagogical skills. Below are a couple of excerpts from Linda Darling-Hammond, summarizing differences between education in the United States and Finland, pointing out that our practices are in almost direct contrast. She begins by describing the challenges of diversity in Finland.  We usually hear cries that other countries don’t deal with diversity, but Linda Darling-Hammond argues a different view in “What We Can Learn From Finland’s Successful School Reform.”

Although there was a sizable achievement gap among students in the 1970s, strongly correlated to socio-economic status, this gap has been progressively reduced as a result of curriculum reforms started in the 1980s. By 2006, Finland’s between-school variance on the PISA science scale was only 5 percent, whereas the average between-school variance in other OECD nations was about 33 percent. (Large between-school variation is generally related to social inequality.)

The overall variation in achievement among Finnish students is also smaller than that of nearly all the other OECD countries. This is true despite the fact that immigration from nations with lower levels of education has increased sharply in recent years, and there is more linguistic and cultural diversity for schools to contend with. (Sahlberg, 2009)

In the United States, teacher education is somewhat haphazard and lacking in rigor and relevance. Educators in the U.S. are routinely belittled and disrespected, especially in the absence of their voice where educational policies and practices are concerned. The following summary by Darling-Hammond describes the contrast:

Leaders in Finland attribute the gains to their intensive investments in teacher education—all teachers receive three years of high-quality graduate level preparation completely at state expense—plus a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a “thinking curriculum” for all students. A recent analysis of the Finnish system summarized its core principles as follows:

  • Resources for those who need them most.
  • High standards and supports for special needs.
  • Qualified teachers.
  • Evaluation of education.
  • Balancing decentralization and centralization.” (Laukkanen, 2008, p. 319)

We have been the envy of other countries because of our students’ innovation and creativity. If we continue down our present hyper-assessment path, we will lose the qualities that make us competitive on the world economic and political stage. A first step will be to take a long and serious look at how we assess student learning and move quickly to bring balanced approaches to measuring student growth without forcing out creativity and the joy of learning.

Sixty-Four Year Commitment: Congratulations to my parents on their anniversary.

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock enjoying fall colors at Artist Point

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock enjoying fall colors at Artist Point

My parents will have been married sixty-four years on March 10th.  After they married, my father went to the Korean War while my mother continued in school. When he returned, they built a life based on commitment and unconditional love. They went through hard times and good times. There would be childhood illnesses and challenging behavior to deal with from their teenage son, but they handled it all masterfully.

I’m sure they haven’t always been completely happy with each other and know for a fact that they can occasionally disagree. But, they’ve never considered abandoning their commitment to each other and their vows of marriage.

Congratulations to my mother and daddy on their sixty-fourth anniversary! Thank you for making sacrifices to provide for sister Martha and me and our families. We love you.

What follows are pictures that represent a few stages of my parents’ lives.

Writing letters to Elsie from Korea

Writing letters to Elsie from Korea.

College days at Ouachita in Arkadelphia.

College days at Ouachita in Arkadelphia.

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock around 1953

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock around 1953

Mother and Daddy in 1956

Mother and Daddy in 1956

This is me trying to help my dad.

This is me trying to help my dad.

The front of Martha's birth announcement.

The front of Martha’s birth announcement.

Baby announcement that mother wrote for Martha. I appreciated her including me, but she probably should have added a statement of the kindness I would show to my new baby sister.

Martha's birth announcement.

Martha’s birth announcement.

Elsie's first year of teaching in South Texas.

Elsie’s first year of teaching in South Texas.

My parents set the example of working hard at their jobs. They didn’t miss work, and they were respected for their quality of work. Mother worked as a teacher for elementary, junior high and high school levels. She even worked in an early childhood program for special needs. Daddy taught a couple of years, but most of his work was as a chemist in oil refineries and later in pollution control. He was very interested in protecting the water table of the area.

Beyond their jobs, they managed to find time to be involved in church and volunteer for community organizations.

Daddy's work to protect water supplies in oil country.

Daddy’s work to protect water supplies in oil country.

Showboat 11 07r

Vacation

My parents flanked by my sister, Martha, and me.

My parents flanked by my sister, Martha, and me.

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock celebrate 64 years of marriage on March 10th.

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock celebrate 64 years of marriage on March 10th.

The El Dorado News Times did a nice story about daddy’s early Valentine gift to mother and their lives together. They still pull this vase out and display it on special occasions.

Alma Intermediate School February Letter to Parents

Click to open the newsletter or read my short, personal history of testing below.

News Alma Intermediate 0215

From the Principal: A short history of testing….

Looking at testing and accountability is like seeing a long arc across a number of years. I remember taking standardized tests as an elementary school student.  We never received any results from these tests and usually didn’t even know they were going to occur.

When I was a teacher, the Minimum Performance Tests (MPT) were given.  I was offended that my students could only show minimum levels of learning on this test. We found that results from the MPT didn’t mean much since most students could do all of the tasks.  Some teachers prepared for these tests by teaching everyone at minimum levels. Not good.

In my early days as a principal, we gave  the Iowa , and later the Standford tests. These were challenging and gave us good information about the learning of our students. These tests also gave us national comparisons of our students’ learning.  Very good!

About sixteen years ago the state began to administer the Benchmark Exam. This test was very challenging but gave us good information about our students’ learning.  We used the results of these tests in our student-led conferences, and our students had a good understanding of their past performance on this assessment.  They also had a good understanding of their goal for the future on this test.

During the first few years of Benchmark testing, students scored low because of the new format and showing learning in ways that were more challenging than in the past.  The Benchmark required students in grades 3-8 to give written responses to high-level questions and prompts in reading and math. We made adjustments in our teaching and some adjustments were made in how the Benchmark was administered. The Benchmark Exam became a good assessment over time.

We are now at the point of another change in how we test students. Students are being prepared to take the tests on a computer over content that is at a higher level of difficulty than ever in the past.

With change comes stress. As adults, we’ve felt stress due to change, but our challenge is to assist our students in dealing with change while managing the stress they might feel. Teachers have attempted to prepare students for the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) while continuing to provide a well-rounded learning experience for students. Taking this set of assessments will be a learning experience for students, parents, and teachers.

This test will probably change in the future, but high-stakes testing will not go away. When I read the learning standards of our state, these are things that I want my children to be able to do.  But, I want them tested fairly and equitably. Testing that is beneficial for students will require change and improvement over time as we saw with the Benchmark Exam.  Also required will be changes in how we as teachers and parents prepare our students.

Our governor is putting together a task force to study our state’s curriculum and how we test our students. This is a good idea and I’ll share input based on what we learn while watching our students test this year.

My hope is that we will see improvements in how we test our students while holding to standards of learning that we all want our children to achieve. Let’s give our children encouragement and let them know that we’re proud of their work. Regardless of how our children are tested, we want them to do their best and be able to show their learning.

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