Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Appropriate dress and fall weather for elementary students

As we transition into the typical fall weather pattern, it is important that parents make sure their children are dressed appropriately for the cooler temperatures, possible rain, and even some warm afternoons. It can be chilly outside while students are waiting to enter the building. Students should be wearing a sweater, sweatshirt or jacket in the cool mornings. Remember, we do not open the doors until 8:15 AM. If your student is coming to school before that, he or she will be waiting outside.

Unless it is very cold, heavy rain or snowing profusely, we will have outside recess. There is no established connection between being outside and getting sick. As a matter of fact, getting outside exercise, breathing fresh air and moving around are healthy activities. Students need to have appropriate clothing available to them to be able to enjoy their time outdoors.

With this variable weather pattern upon us, it is incumbent upon all of us to provide the needed clothing options for our students to be comfortable at school; both inside and outside.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Real Education

Having just completed Charles Murray's Real Education, I came away from the book with a renewed sense of urgency to insure that our students are appropriately educated without regard to the political whim of the day. In this case it might be the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. While the intent of NCLB for all students to be at grade-level by 2014 is admirable, it is only possible if you water down the definition of grade level.

In Idaho, we use the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in grades 3-10 to measure student progress against Idaho standards and grade level attainment. On these assessments, Genesee is doing better than any surrounding districts. If I had the time to go through the results from every school district in Idaho and put all the data on a spreadsheet, I would guess our test scores are the highest in Idaho or certainly within the top 2%. We use ISAT results to inform instruction so that we can meet the individual needs of students. We do not live and die by the results. We do not teach to the test. We do prepare students to take this assessment since we must demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Otherwise we could end up in "AYP Jail."

The ISAT is a minimum competency assessment. The skills are basic (reading, language usage, mathematics and science) but do not measure deep understanding of advanced concepts or many other important elements of our curriculum such as social studies, fine arts, health, etc. You can see a comparison here of Genesee with surrounding districts of similar size and with Moscow. Our teachers make sure our students have basic skills but they do not stop there.

Murray points out the truth of Aristotle's insight "One of the deepest forms of human enjoyment is the exercise of one's realized capacities." Statistically, half of all students are below average. Genesee does not have a large enough population of students for this to be true here. Our students do not fall along a normal bell shaped curve. Technically their academic achievement is skewed to the right meaning they are more capable than average. That is due to local demographics; i.e., socio-economic status and the education level of parents. We should have high test scores, but we cannot be satisfied with just doing well on the ISAT.

Perhaps the Army says it best with their slogan "Be All That You Can Be." The problem as Murray points out is that the Army uses the word can. "It is not good enough just to wish children well. It is our obligation as adults to oversee their journey. Sometimes this means encouraging, reinforcing, and praising -- things that make us feel good. But dealing with can imposes less pleasant roles as well. ...sometimes (this) means pushing, criticizing and demanding -- things that make us feel like the bad guy. When a child's aspirations are unrealistic, making good on our obligation means guiding the child toward other goals." These are not always politically correct concepts in society today.

As Murray points out "the goal of education is to bring children into adulthood having discovered things they enjoy doing and doing them at the outermost limits of their potential." This applies to all students regardless of their range of ability. I hope we are a significant part of that journey for every student at Genesee School.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Latah County Fair

Next week is the annual Latah County Fair. Numerous Genesee School students will be participating in the fair. Genesee High School FFA, under the direction of Agriculture Science teacher J.R. Morrow, will feature prominently in the fair again this year. Many other Genesee students are participating through 4H under the direction of local dedicated parent volunteers. Participation in the fair provides excellent opportunities for youth development and education.

Even with a number of students gone for the fair, historically Genesee School has excellent average daily attendance during the fair week. However, one of the lowest attendance weeks is the week after the fair concludes. Given the emergence of an early flu season, it is even more important for all students participating or visiting the fair to eat a balanced diet and get sufficient sleep. Recent sleep research finds that elementary age students need ten hours of sleep each night while teenagers need nine hours.

Genesee School will have early release on Friday to provide an opportunity for fair goers to enjoy the activities. So enjoy the fair but be healthy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Genesee Booster Club

The Genesee Booster Club is hosting their annual membership drive and BBQ at the football game Friday night. The Bulldogs will host Kendrick at the city-owned sports field at 7:00 PM. The BBQ begins at 5:30 PM and is free to to all current 09-10 Booster Club members or those who sign up and pay for membership at the BBQ.

The Booster Club is an independent entity whose goal is to support Genesee School Activity programs. Over the years, the Booster Club has purchased scoreboards for the football field and gym, bought badly needed uniforms, supported student-athletes who have qualified for state championship tournaments, and helped to fund non-athletic activities also.

Throughout the year the Boosters will conduct fund-raising activities in support of Genesee students. Your support would be appreciated.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Children Do Not Come to School with D's and R's on Their Foreheads

Back in the 90's when I began as Genesee's Superintendent, I had the opportunity to attend a summer meeting of all of Idaho's superintendents and I heard then State Superintendent of Public Education Jerry Evans, a Republican, give a speech. I do not remember all of what he said but one point I have always remembered and admired was his statement that "children do not come to school with D's and R's on their foreheads."

This morning while I was riding my bike up the Genesee-Troy road, I kept thinking about this statement and how well it relates to the firestorm that has been whipped up by some of the radio talk show hosts regarding the President's speech to school children which is set to be broadcast next Tuesday. Jerry Evans had it right. Students don't come to school with a political affiliation stamped on their heads. Neither do educators.

Teachers are licensed, professional educators with significant, required training who must follow the Idaho Code of Ethics for Teachers. I am sure many of them affiliate with one political party or the other, but I couldn't tell you which party. And it doesn't matter. Their job is not to indoctrinate children. Their job is to educate children.

Genesee teachers are the cream of the crop. They are experts in pedagogy (methods of teaching) and they are experts in the subjects they are responsible for teaching. They follow district-approved curriculum. They determine what is age-appropriate, how best to utilize resources, what fits within the curriculum and how to structure instructional time to enable all students to achieve.

Does this mean we get it right every time? No. Nobody is perfect. Teachers, like Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants are human beings. But you can rest assured your children are in good hands and the education they receive is responsible and appropriate. We teach about politics but we aren't in the business of turning R's into D's or D's into R's. We'll leave that to someone else.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Students

As many of you have no doubt heard, President Obama has scheduled a Presidential address to school children throughout the United States for Tuesday, September 8 at 9:00 AM PST. Based on information received from the United States Department of Education and Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the address is likely to last 15-20 minutes, and the President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

It is up to local education agencies to determine if they want their students to participate in this historic address or not. As with other televised presentations, the Genesee School District makes a determination what is appropriate for our students based on grade level, subject, and content. When such an address fits within our curriculum and is appropriate, we would consider the merits of the program prior to showing it in class.

It is not unusual for students studying American Government to watch various news programs, Presidential addresses and other pertinent content. Other social studies classes might find the content fitting well within the curriculum. Teachers have limited instructional time which they guard zealously. Often only segments of televised speeches or movies are used to demonstrate a specific idea or subject.

I would recommend that parents watch the address live or later on the Internet and discuss it with their children. Given the competition our students are in with students in China, India and other emerging economies, they would be wise to work harder, set short and long-term goals and take responsibility for their learning. As parents, we are primarily responsible for the development of these qualities in our children. These are also qualities that educators feel strongly students should develop in public school.

As parents, it is incumbent upon us to teach our children our family values. Students well grounded in the value system and culture of their family are able to think independently and reflect upon what they learn in school and in society at large. I appreciate all of the calls and emails I have received on this issue. It demonstrates to me that you care about your children and your children's education. You can rest assured we also care and will insure our due diligence when determining the content of our curriculum.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Idaho Nutrition Standards

The State of Idaho has issued new nutrition standards for school meals. The USDA is currently revising their meal patterns and nutrition standards but Idaho took a proactive stance and developed new standards with the help of a statewide panel.

The new lunch standards include:
  • Calories served may not exceed 100-110% of the appropriate level.
  • Elimination of all foods containing trans fats.
  • Deep-fat frying shall not be used a method to prepare food.
  • Limitation on pre-fried entrees and side items to no more than three times weekly.
  • Whole grains must be served at least three times weekly.
  • Serve a variety to include one fruit and one vegetable daily. Serve fresh fruits & vegetables when possible and canned fruits in natural juice, water or light syrup.
  • Only offer fat-free or low fat milk.
  • Legumes to be served once per week.
  • Not offer grains with more than 14g of sugar.
  • Limit sodium to 2mg per calorie.
  • Offer meals with at least 1g of fiber per 100 calories.
  • Limit cholesterol to 100mg.
  • No added salt and sugar dispensers or packets will be made available.
As you can see from the above list, the Child Nutrition Department of the Idaho Department of Education has taken a serious step towards improving the nutritional value of school lunches. You can be sure your child is receiving a well-balanced nutritional lunch because the Genesee School District follows the guidelines above.

If you have any questions give Mrs. Hasfurther, Food Service Director, or Dave Neumann, Superintendent a call.