Has Your Church Jumped the Shark?

Today I walked a man through an event for people in our community that needed some help for the holiday. Unfortunately, the toys were picked over by the time it was his turn, so a couple of his older kids didn’t get any toys or fun things that fit their age. By the time we got to the end of of the toys and clothes, the food baskets had all been given away. This is a family in need because the Mom, who had been earning a majority of the income, ended up with a medical issue that has caused her to have to leave her job.

The man was happy with what he got. He avoided taking things he didn’t think his kids would fully use. And, he was completely appreciative of everything, even though he left with less than the event had hoped to provide to him.

A few miles away….

This week-end my church is launching the opening of their new mega-multi-million dollar branch building. With fancy architecture, great A/V, nice seating, and a prime location in Fishers, it is definitely a church that stands out when you drive by or see it.

If you ask me, I’d say yes, my church has jumped the Shark.

Thank You

I want to take a minute to say thank you to not only the 5,627 individuals that took the time to vote for me for the HSE school board position, but to all the people who took time to vote for anyone on the school board. The impact that the board will have on our taxes, our community, and even our families can be larger than the impact of positions at the state and national level. As such, it is good to see that over 35,000 people took time to vote for candidates.

I’ve been asked by a couple of people if I’ll continue to be involved. For those that know me, they’d see that as a silly question. I was involved in our schools and in attending board meeting prior to any consideration of running for the board. This is my town, these are my schools, many of you are my friends and neighbors, so of course I’ll continue to do what I do – I’ll continue to be involved in both the schools and the community.

I want to congratulate all of the school board candidates that ran as well as those that won. Each candidate deserves a huge congratulations for stepping up and drawing more attention to our schools and our kids. I personally want to thank each for taking their time as well as time from their families to run and to draw attention to important issues. I believe our schools will be better going forward as a result of their actions. So, thank you.

Our schools are great.

The election is over, but there are still questions around fiscal responsibility, we still have to find ways to retain our good teachers, we still need to continue to recognize each student individually to help them succeed, we still need to support the mental health programs, we still have to make sure our schools stay safe and usable for the long term, and we still have to remember it is all about the kids. While the board can make policies and procedures, it will take the community to make it all happen.

I look forward to being a part of the HSE community that makes it all happen.

Tech in HSE Schools: The Feedback Cycle

Technology is tough. Securing technology is even tougher, but when the technology is used by kids, it is important for technology to not only work, but to work in a way that eliminates unnecessary risks.

One of the biggest concerns about is use of technology in schools is around the potential for kids to be exposed to bad things. The other concern that is raised centers on putting expensive technology into the hands of little kids. One of the first questions I asked when the concept of having elementary kids in our schools use computers (iPads), was related to the idea of having 5 and 6 year olds responsible for getting a device to and from school.

Four years later, when the program was ready to roll out to the elementary schools, a new set of parents stepped up and asked the same questions. Fortunately, the school administration listened and made changes that didn’t require the younger kids to bring the devices back and forth to school.

Even looking beyond the youngest kids, technology is tough. It has problems. Most people are not tech-savvy experts that can address electronic issues. Additionally, if you give a kid something, then generally speaking, you can expect at some point it will be broken. That goes for computers such as iPads as well.

So when a school puts 21,000+ devices in place, it is safe to expect there will be issues. The question becomes, how can the issues be reduced or alleviated?

Communication and Open Standards

First is to open up communication so that you get the community helping to identify issues. In our community we have numerous people representing every facet of technology. Those people have insights that can help alleviate problems before they happen as well as insights that can help resolve issues in hours instead of months. The school system has to be ready to asking for help from the community early and often. This would prevent things such as the new projection system in the high school from sitting for well over a year without being used because the technology changed before it was even used. In fact, this is a case where the community had suggested open standards be used, but the decision was made to go with a proprietary solution. (Can we say, “We told you so”?)

As a result of community push-back, one of the efforts put forth by the school administration more recently was to set up Technology Committees to help provide feedback. These committees have started meeting and will continue to meet over the coming months. The initial meetings were less about technology and more focused on teaching methods, so the jury is still out on whether these will truly help open two way communication that will lead to technology improvements. I’m a member of one of these committees, so I’ll be sharing related thoughts in  future posts.

Understanding the Individual Issues

Additionally, it is critical that with that awareness, that there is an understanding of the individual issues happening to each student. If feedback isn’t collected, then how can you know what is truly happening? While many issues are seen within the schools, because technology is being brought home, many issues are not seen. As such, it is critical for the school system to do everything they can to make sure they are aware of what is happening beyond their own walls.

There is no automated means that I’m currently aware of within the school system to report issues that people have with their student computers or the schools technology. There is, however, an independent group that has created a means for collecting feedback. You can access the form for reporting a problem at the following link:

HSE Parents Voice iPad Issue Reporting Tool

This tool has not been available for very long, but it has already started collecting data. I recently talked with the group running the collection app about the data, and am glad to see that they’ve shared the initial results. You can review their initial findings at the following link:

Parents Voice iPad Findings Initial Report

This is just their early results. Because this has been in use at the beginning of the school year, it would be expected that the issues will be higher. The initial findings are indicating that issues and concerns are spread across a variety of areas, so it will be interesting to see what they learn over time. As kids and parents use the devices more, will issues go down or will they increase? Only time will tell.

In Summary

Technology is a tool to be used to help with teaching. Just like a pencil can have its lead broken, technology also breaks. Just like it is better to buy a standard pencil so you know you’ll be able to find a sharper that works, it is also good to use technology that follows standards. The way you reduce the issues is by understanding what issues have happened in the past. By collecting data and feedback, hopefully our schools will evolve the technology used to what is most practical and appropriate for the learning objectives. Until then, groups like HSE Parents Voice and many of the HSE parents (including myself) will keep providing the feedback to try to make it better.

Teacher Retention at HSE Schools

WRTV 6 did a story on teacher retention in Indiana schools today. They indicated that 18% of the teachers and administrators left their school in a single year. That puts the retention on average at 82%. With over 12,426 educators, that is a large turnover.

You might think that HSE Schools are immune to this turnover; however, you’d be wrong. We have teachers leaving regularly as well, which is why I’ve raised it as an issue while running for a school board position. While some turn over is expected as a result of retiring or other reasons, there are also those teachers that state they are leaving for reasons such as being tired of “teaching to tests” or the teacher who feels they are not being heard. Some also leave to make more money in other districts.

It was reported that 8.5% of teachers in Indiana left for reasons other than retirement. Before saying 8.5% doesn’t seem bad, that’s over 1,000 educators in Indiana.

You can find the reasons that WRTV 6 found by reading their article at:

http://www.theindychannel.com/longform/call-6-thousands-of-indiana-teachers-leaving-the-classroom

There are a few things that are concerning in the story. This includes the comment that Indiana schools are not tracking why educators are leaving. This is a topic I’m sure will be addressed by the administration as it would be mind boggling to think this isn’t being tracked.

Glenda Ritz’s comment about taking the issue to the General Assembly seems extremely odd.  Why would you not simply tell the school administrators to start tracking why teachers are leaving so you can work to retain those that remain? Any administrator deserving of the role should already be tracking or aware of this. If it takes getting a group of politicians to tell you it is okay to do a basic management function, then we have a bigger task ahead of us if we want to fix issues in our schools. Furthermore, creating a panel to review the causes is great, but if that panel fails to ask any of the other 12,400+ educators questions, then the last work that should be used to describe the effectiveness is “proactive”.

On the positive, discussions around teacher pay as well as on how teacher evaluations are done makes a lot of sense. These are topics that do need to be addressed at the state and district level.

The article actually includes retention rates for Indiana schools. I’ve not verified the data with what our administration, but I’ll assume that RTV6 has verified this. Here are numbers for some of the HSE Schools for 2014-15. Note that our average from these schools is 81%, just under the state average of 82%.  Nine of the schools scored below the state average.

School Name

Retained

Total Retention Rate
571 Brooks School Elementary 45 57 79%
572 Cumberland Road Elem School 25 34 74%
573 Durbin Elementary School 19 25 76%
574 Fall Creek Elementary School 34 40 85%
575 Fall Creek Intermediate School 43 65 66%
576 Fishers Elementary School 27 27 100%
577 Fishers High School 141 157 90%
578 Fishers Junior High School 54 67 81%
580 Geist Elementary School 35 42 83%
581 Hamilton SE Int and Jr High Sch 31 67 46%
582 Hamilton Southeastern HS 133 162 82%
583 Harrison Parkway Elementary School 33 35 94%
584 Hoosier Road Elementary School 37 42 88%
585 Lantern Road Elementary School 29 32 91%
586 New Britton Elementary School 30 36 83%
587 Riverside Intermediate School 52 60 87%
588 Riverside Junior High 60 71 85%
589 Sand Creek Elementary 32 46 70%
590 Sand Creek Intermediate School 54 64 84%
591 Thorpe Creek Elementary 36 45 80%
950 1174 81%

 

Clearly there is work to be done in the area of retaining good teachers.

Live Streaming the HSE School Board Meetings

One of the ways I find that I differ from the other candidates is that I haven’t waited to see if I get elected before trying to address issues that are important. I have been attending board meetings, asking questions, and pushing for change well before my name was filed to run for a school board position.

Simply put, the issues don’t wait for elections.

This year alone, HSE has had a referendum discussed, a roll-out of the iPads in the elementary schools, two bonds approved (totally around $15.5 million above and beyond the referendum and state money), issues with technology, changes to school policies and handbooks, continued loss of good teachers, and a multitude of other topics. In the case of the ten million dollar bond passed earlier this year, I was one of the few people to stand and ask a question about its purpose. Similarly, in this last school board meeting, I was the only candidate that was not an incumbent to raise a question about the spending. I’ve asked the administrators, school tech lead, and board members questions on other topics as well. These range from discussions on why open standard tech wasn’t used to why there was a push to eliminate paper magazine subscriptions in the elementary schools.

On topic I’ve questioned has come up a few times by other candidates. This is the topic of live streaming HSE School Board meetings.

In early July, I created a page on Facebook specifically for streaming the HSE school board meetings. While board meetings are “meetings in public”, out of consideration, I asked Dr. Bourff if I could live stream and record the meetings. I stated that I would take care of the recording, streaming, and any editing with the target media source being a live stream on a Facebook page. There would be no need for any effort by the school board or administration.

The idea of streaming the meetings is not a new one, and one that it was clear Dr. Bourff had already considered. As such, Dr. Bourff was able to provide insights toward the downside of streaming school board meetings.

By filming a meeting, there was a real concern that the level of discussion by members of the board could decrease. With a camera rolling, it would be clear that their questions and words were being caught on film. Statements that were made could be viewed differently than they intended. This could diminish discussions, and thus negatively impact results. For example, a board member might choose to avoid asking for clarification so they wouldn’t seem to lack knowledge on a topic. Because it is critical to keep the discussion free flowing among the board members, having to worry about a rolling camera could be a detriment. Having been to a large number of board meetings as an audience member, there have been a few meetings where the limited knowledge around technology was hard to watch. Had the board members been recorded, it truly could have not reflected the best on a couple of them.

Live streaming also has the potential to cause grandstanding by members of the community. While this sounds easy to control, I have facilitated a number of live online events as well as meet-ups. As such, I understand how grandstanding is actually a very serious concern.

The opposite of grandstanding is also an issue. A number of people have attended board meetings to present on topics that were sensitive, and yet very valid concerns. In a few of these cases, I do believe that the presenters might have avoided making their comments if they knew it was being recorded and streamed live.

There are other issues with streaming as well.

The reality is, school board meetings are held in public. As such, there is nothing that prevents a person from streaming the events now. Live streaming has become so simple that nearly anyone can do it with a smartphone and a Facebook account.

At this time, I have not pushed to stream the board meetings even though they are open to the public. There are two core reasons for this. First is to respect Dr. Bourff’s request to not cause the disruption in the board meetings. Second, and more importantly, not enough people have indicated they care or would watch a live stream. While streaming sounds like a great idea, when Dr. Bourff streamed an event earlier this year related to the referendum, the engagement was also extremely low. Having experience with live chats and streamed events online has often shown the same results.

While there are people that would watch the stream or an on-demand versions of the board meetings, the level of active interest just isn’t there to justify pushing against Dr. Bourff’s statements at this time. I’ve raised the topic, and over time will bring it forward again whether elected or not. I believe that recordings will eventually happen, but until there is real proactive demand by the community with a real commitment to view, I find that my own attention and time are better spent on topics such as spending, academics, and the well-being of our students.

Tech and Computer Questions in HSE Schools

Kids on Computer

While there were some technology questions asked of the candidates for the HSE School board at the HSEA candidate forum, I was surprised of a few that didn’t get asked. Questions such as:

  • What is being done to monitor screen time?
  • What is being done to secure the school networks better so as to keep kids from VPNing or getting out of the school network to sites that are not appropriate?
  • What is being done to prevent kids from playing non-educational games in the classrooms or at lunch?
  • What is being done to make sure the devices are secure at all times, including those when they are not in use?
  • What is being done to make sure teachers are fully versed in how to effectively use technology as a tool and not as a ‘babysitter’ or distraction?
  • How is the use of technology being balanced with that of other learning methods (such as paper periodicals and books at the lower levels?
  • Is there a review in place to make sure recommended devices are sufficient to cover the length of time they will be used? Specifically, if the school expects the life of a device to be four years, then are the devices being purchased this year going to still be usable in 4 years with the changes and deprecation of support that companies like Apple make?
  • Who is reviewing issues such as COPPA (Child Online Privacy and Protection Act) and software licensing to make sure that what is being used is not only appropriate for kids under 13, but also legal for kids under 13 to use? For example, Adobe licensing including Adobe Reader at one point did not allow for use by kids under 13.
  • Should we review the appropriateness of iPads in middle school and junior high where kids really need a keyboard?
  • ISTEP rules were going to require a wired keyboard on testing computers. Is this a possibility with whatever new testing replaces the ISTEP? If so, how will this be addressed by the school?

There were a few good technology comments that were brought up in the forum that included:

  • Technology and computers are just a tool. Like other tools, they are used to execute on the teaching.
  • HSE21 is not about computers and technology. It is a learning, teaching approach focused on project-based, inquisitive learning styles that is more open to allowing kids to engage with creativity and innovative thinking. The use of technology (and thus a 1:1 computer program) can make elements of HSE21 easier to execute.
  • There are great areas where technology can make a big impact on helping individual children. Several people echoed how they can be used to help children who have hearing issues.
  • More research needs to be done in regard to appropriate use and handling of devices in the lower grade levels, especially K-2.
  • Better communication needs to occur with incoming families in regard to technology expectations.
  • We should be using the technology to enable more communication
  • The technology is being used in cool, creative ways in the classrooms.
  • While it might seems trivial, the iPads are being used to cut down on paper and ink costs. A few cents saved for each piece of paper with ink adds up in the long run.
It is interesting to note that HSE has set up technology advisory committees that include teachers, administrators, and parents. Ironically, in the first two meetings of these committees, most of the questions and issues around technology have not been addressed. Given time, hopefully these are addressed.

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*photo credit: Lupuca Children at school via photopin (license)

 

UPDATE:

October 27, 2016 – The tech committee meeting on October 27th focused on open-ended questions. This included a lot of great, positive feedback on how technology is being used. It also included a number of comments and suggestions on making things better. Issue such as VPN access, screen time, computer monitoring, and appropriateness of device selection were all discussed. As to be expected, many topics are bigger than a one hour meeting can address; however, the topics were highlighted and brought to light. That’s a great step towards being able to build better solutions for the long term.