Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teachers: Are you trying to turn introverts into extroverts?

 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain should be read by educators.

In her highly-researched book, Cain points out that our society has come to prize the extrovert ideal - "the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking and certainty to doubt."    

Cain goes on to note that it is a mistake to idealize extroversion (and treat introversion as a personality trait that is an impediment) because many of the great accomplishments in history have been the work of introverts and because 30-50% of the population fits into the introverted category.

"The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction from extroverts, write College of William and Mary education scholars Jill Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig. And too often, 'very little is made available to that learner except constant advice on becoming more social and gregarious.'"

Cain goes on to say that the instructional model used in most schools exists that way because it is most cost-efficient - not because it is the best way to educate students. "The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives but, too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself."

is a great book for educators, parents, business leaders...actually for anyone who wants to better understand human nature.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Student Privacy: Who will get all the student data?

In a New York Principals update it was reported that NYS is going share private student information with a company called inBloom, Inc.
See:    https://www.inbloom.org/states-and-districts

According to the article, this is being done without parental permission and inBloom is not guaranteeing the privacy of the information. inBloom plans to share this personally identifiable information with for-profit companies. The Education Commissioner in Louisiana is pulling his state out of this due to student privacy concerns.

It was suggested by NY Principals that parents write to the NYS Board of Regents to voice their concerns. See:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

PCS Will Adopt a Spending Plan on Monday

On Monday, April 22nd, it is likely that the Potsdam School Board will adopt a spending plan with a 4% (all right, 3.99% to be exact) increase in the tax levy.  How is that going to work out with your increased assessment?

Officials at Potsdam Central School are proud of the fact that they are not raising the tax levy as much as they could, which would have been 4.78%!  Arguments will be made that, if your assessment increase was 11%, your taxes won't go up more than 4%.  In fact, arguments will be made that for many people, their taxes will go up less than 4%.  This may all be true, but why, when the district is getting an additional $497,000 in state and bullet aid, is there no discussion about giving some tax relief to the taxpayers of this community?  On top of the increases in County taxes this year, a 4% increase to school taxes represents a lot of money to many people not receiving increases in their income!

At the last PCS Finance Committee meeting, board members went on a spending spree with the additional aid, adding back positions which weren't even on the Superintendent's list to reinstate.  It appears that not one Board member suggested using some of the money to decrease the amount of money being asked of taxpayers.  Except for the elementary teaching positions, the reductions in staff were reasonable based on the enrollment in those grades right now.  There was no reason to add back all of those positions.  It does make Board members look like heros, especially those who are running for re-election in May.

The sad reality is that taxpayers don't get to decide how high taxes are raised by the PCS Board of Education.  Most people in the community don't vote and those who do are those who are most directly impacted by the school budget, for example, teachers, support staff and parents.  In my opinion, the majority of the sitting PCS Board members are there because of Union support and they will vote for what is best for the Union employees. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Free Engineering Courses for HS Students

Today The New York Times reported that MOOCs (massive open online courses) have been designed by Brown University to attract the participation of high school students in the field of engineering.

See: Brown University Creates Online Course for High School Students

Apparently, Brown University is the first university to create a MOOC designed specifically for high schoolers and, very interestingly, "this course is based more on activities and research assignments than on video lectures" - an idea that education leaders believe should replace the current dated Industrial Model of instruction used in most US high schools.

"We know we need more STEM education, and bridging the gap between college and high school with an open online course is a great way to get more kids into these fields and more interested in the college experience," states John Coates.

This MOOC is being called innovative and unprecedented. Since the country needs more students to delve into STEM courses, this might a great step in the right direction.

Friday, April 19, 2013

PCS: Thoughts About Cuts

 I see a pattern being revisited each year since the state aid cuts that began as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. Namely, different interest groups lobby for a particular department or position by both praising that department and, too often, by suggesting reasons to cut another department/position instead. This helps no one and hurts everyone.

Consider these questions:
  1. Should PCS become a magnet school for music and STEM? This could draw students from other school districts, NYS aid would follow those students, and programs would be improved. If this sounds like a good idea, don't lobby to cut music or STEM teachers.
  2. Should athletics be brought up each year as a place to cut? Athletics are a great outlet for students in ways too numerous to list. In addition, in a $27 million budget, athletics will cost between $300,000 and $400,000 or .01% of the budget. Case closed. Ditto for extracurriculars.
  3. Shouldn't concerned citizens unite and support student programs and positions rather than pushing "the other guy" off the cliff?
  4. Should we have a school with no Business Department? Recently, an economist on NPR said that the lack of financial literacy among the nation's youth is at a crisis level. What is the plan behind the cuts? Should the cuts be driven by attrition or by what most protects the education of students?
  5.  The 2011-12 budget was unspent by almost $1 million dollars. In addition, on the March 7, 2013 budget report, there was $1.975 million dollars in unspent funds. This suggests that there will be at least $1 million dollars unspent in this year's budget. Could the BOE use some of this $1 million to save some jobs? The fact the the BOE voted against restoring a part-time music position to full-time shows that 4 board members may not have a good grip on the assets unspent in this year's budget or a clear vision for the need to support one of the jewels in the crown of the PCSD - music. This might sound a bit harsh but I believe it to be true: a Board without a vision makes just this sort of wrongheaded decision.
  6. Should the AAK principal positon be filled? Could the other principals handle the work so that a teacher position (and maybe an aide as well) could be saved? At the very least, there should have been an in-depth public discussion about this topic.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

PCS & Canton-Potsdam Hospital: David Acker makes the connection

David Acker, CPH President and CEO, delivered a speech this week at St. Lawrence University about the relationship between health care and education. Among the highlights of his speech:

~  The paths that schools and hospitals are on are similar and interconnected. Programs are limited, staff has been laid off, and rainy day funds are evaporating.

~  Their similar paths will impact the future of this region.

~ Regarding Employment Mr. Acker stated:

       1. "The continuation and the creation of jobs is the oxygen of all communities."
       2. Stable employment is critical and large stable employers are the most critical because without them there is no tax base, no decent services, no infrastructure that is supportable..."There is simply a wasteland of poverty."
       3. "The pulse of the center of the North Country is in the 4 colleges. No businesses, particularly the colleges, can recruit and retain students and faculty without good healthcare.  No hospital can recruit good doctors without high quality public schools."
      Mr. Acker went on to say, "If the schools begin to slide, and the hospitals will begin to follow that same slope, the colleges will be right behind."

~  Regarding funding:

       1. Mr. Acker addressed the fact that, regarding health care and education, the nation is asking legitimate questions about fixing the systems before continuing to throw money at them. He said that until that debate is resolved, there will be continued cuts.
~ Regarding politics:

       1. "The political system is too corroded by money to allow for our voices to be heard." He said, "I don't believe anyone's going to ride to the rescue." Acker noted that there are well-intentioned people in Washington and Albany but he believes they do not have the answers, the money, or the knowledge to "craft good solutions that work for us."

~  Regarding the problem:

       1. "The heart of the problem is the uncontrolled health care spending that is blowing up his (Pat Brady's) budget - whether for current employees or retirees - and the hospital is the face of that problem. And if we stay on that path, where our hospitals go is to get more of the school's money, and we will sink them, which will sink us, which will sink others."
       2.  "Our  biggest problem is not money, it's time. There must be a sense of urgency about tackling the problem."

~ Regarding the solution

  1. "...the solution involves the school, its employees, and the health care providers changing the paradigm." Mr. Acker went on to pose guiding principles. Among them: 
  • That we are not victims waiting powerlessly for the next release of bad news. "We are leaders," stated Acker, and "it is our job to act."
  • "We're not prisoners to the paradigms of the old - to parochial pride, to benefit structures that find past promises divorced from present economic realities."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

No Summer Recreation for Potsdam Students?

Is it possible that there won't be a summer recreation program for the children of the Town of Potsdam?  Potentially, even the ice arena and access to the Town parks could be closed.  Many parents are very concerned about recent statements and actions by the elected boards of the Village and Town of Potsdam.

In an unexpected action by the Village Board last month, a resolution was passed ending village contributions to the Town of Potsdam Recreation Budget effective December 31st.  Past practice saw approximately equal expenditures by the village and town for the $320,000 budget. Comments made by Village Mayor Steve Yurgartis suggest that efforts to resolve issues with the Town government have been unsuccessful. 

Subsequently, the Town Board Supervisor made statements chastising the Village Board for their actions.  See the North Country Now article here: Potsdam Town Supervisor Concerned with Legal Issues...
Clearly, there are issues but it seems as if they have come up before and could be resolved with enough willpower.

What we have, it seems, is another example of the Village and Town Boards not working together for the best interests of the community, in this case our kids.  It makes perfect sense that the village should be tired of paying more than their fair share if that is happening.  It also makes sense that the two groups must work together for a smooth transition.  According to the Town Supervisor, it is unlikely that the current time frame (December 31st) gives enough time to put a sound recreation plan in place.

What is needed is a demand for the facts and pressure on both Boards to resolve this issue.  Let's not accept political posturing.  Go to both Boards and remind them that where there is a will, there is a way. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pat Brady - Budget Interview

Potsdam Central Superintendent Patrick Brady was interviewed this week at WCKN about the district's proposed budget (not yet finalized by the BOE) as well as other pertinent fiscal issues.

This informative interview can be seen at:

Among the topics discussed:

~  The loss of NYS aid to the district since 2008
~  The impact of the re-valuation of homes/businesses on the PCSD budget
~  Soaring Health Insurance Costs and Pension Costs ($1 out of every $5 spend by the district is on HI) (Pension contributions, determined by charging the district a percentage of total payroll, has sharply risen to over 16% of teacher payroll for next year.)
~  The NYS Tax Cap
~  The likely PCSD tax levy (3.9%)
~  Needed Mandate Relief

(This interview was made possible by Donna Seymour of AAUW and Dan Dullea and his Communications students at Clarkson University.)

Norwood-Norfolk CS Board President, Superintendent, and Union President Interviewed

Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education President Jon Hazen, Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Kirnie, and Teachers' Union President and Reading Teacher Michelle Brockway were interviewed this week about "Critical Education Issues" at Clarkson University's WCKN studio as part of North Country Matters. 

This very informative interview can be seen at:

Among the topics discussed by Mr. Hazen, Mrs. Kirnie, and Mrs. Brockway were:

~ The fiscal and educational crisis in the NNCSD driven by NYS Aid cuts and by soaring expenses in health insurance costs and pension costs
~ The fact that there is approximately an equal number of active employees and retirees

~ Mandated standardized testing (3-8)...its breadth and its impact on available instructional time
~ Multiple Pathways to Success for Students
~ Local Solutions to Educational Problems

(This interview was made possible by Donna Seymour of AAUW and Dan Dullea and the students in his Communications class at Clarkson University's WCKN.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Town of Potsdam Preliminary Roll

After you have had a chance to review your property's data with the Town Assessor, you will probably want to know how the new assessed values impact your friends and neighbors (and maybe your elected officials).  One way to do that is to look at the Preliminary Roll. To find it online, go to this link: 2013 Town of Potsdam Preliminary Roll  It is a very big PDF file so you may want to use a search tool to look it over.

This is not the final roll.  It is the first of three.  The information contained in this roll may be changed by the Town Assessor as needed until the Tentative Roll is filed on May 1. 

Contained in this roll is land value and total value for all properties in the Town.  If you wish to find comparables for a possible grievance, this is not the tool.  I will have more on that later.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Assessment Revaluation for Town of Potsdam

The 2013 Assessment letters have been mailed.  How does your new assessment look?  This information is very important relative to what your school taxes will be with the new spending plan.  The assessment of our property increased 19%!  That seems to be over and above what was needed by the Town of Potsdam to move the equalization rate to 100%. 

If your assessment seems to be extraordinarily higher than expected, do something about it.  Contact the Town Assessor, find out how the new assessment was calculated and check out the comparables.  It is not necessary to accept the new assessed value of your home without documentation.  If, after talking with the Assessor, you still aren't satisfied, file a grievance with the Town BAR and go to Grievance Day. 

The assessed value of your property is a very important part of the taxes you pay for County, Town, Village, and School taxes.  Make sure the value is equitable in your neighborhood.  Everyone is willing to pay their fair share, as long as it is fair.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Education: Still Teaching for the Industrial Age?

      Why are American public schools still teaching students on an Industrial Age model instead of the Information Age model? Just recently both the Huffington Post ("Industrial Age Education Is a Disservice to Students") and St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas Burns addressed this issue.


      What is amazing is that the need to change from the Industrial Model to the Information Age Model has been discussed for decades...and yet it hasn't happened. According to the Huffington Post article, "...the current K-12 system isn't preparing students for today's needs. An example of the gap in our education system is found in the shortage of graduates from the programs that meet the insatiable demands of our knowledge economy. This includes science, technology, engineering, and math fields, among others."

      Supt. Burns, in a recent interview at Clarkson University, also noted that schools need to change from the Industrial Model to the Information Age Model in order to meet students' needs and in order to prepare students for the jobs that exist in the country.

    What characterizes the Industrial Model?

  1. An over-reliance on Standardized Tests
  2. A focus on memorization and multiple choice questions  
  3. Passive learning where students sit and listen to lectures
  4. Minimal focus on critical thinking
  5. Little time, if any, spent outside the traditional classroom setting (In comparison, 2 out of 3 high school students in Switzerland are placed in apprenticeships during school hours.)
     On top of all of this, recent reports about the possible over-diagnosis of ADHD, ADD (attention deficits) in American students and the prescribing of drugs for so many students could be tied to the fact that young brains may be developing differently in the computer age, thus calling for different instructional models.  In addition, forcing students to sit all day long as passive learners and giving them little or no recess contributes to the dichotomy between their computer (iphones, ipads, ipods, laptops, desktops, gaming consoles) lives outside school and their Industrial Model lives at school. 

      Mr. Burns said he feels that the fiscal crisis in schools will drive educational change and re-structuring. Isn't it too bad that wisdom about needed educational reforms didn't precipitate such changes?  Did we really have to get to the cusp of fiscal insolvency in order to seriously discuss making significant and long-overdue educational changes?