What does the superintendent do all summer? #Engage109

“Make sure that team members know they are working with you, not for you”
– John Wooden

What is going on in #Engage109 this summer?  What do we do all summer is a common question I have been asked for most of the 25 years I’ve been in education! Well it’s official – we are in school year 2017-2018! We have a guiding Strategic Plan, we have many new leaders, we will have a new board member on the way – it’s a whole new year. Aside from running summer school with more than 500 students, overseeing major summer construction projects approaching $5Million dollars, and the on-boarding of nearly 10 new leaders, we’re also making sure we have plans for meetings, workshops, professional development, curriculum development and other milestone events for all administrators.

As far as we’re concerned, it’s time for 2017-2018 to start (Ok … we’ll wait a few more weeks …).

In addition, we’re reaching end of life for hundreds of nearly 10 year old Promethean Boards, so the Technology Team is rolling out new projection and whiteboard systems to replace the Promethean boards in all six campuses.  Our Director for Innovative Learning, Marcie Faust and many of our outstanding iCoaches have trained nearly 64 teachers in summer workshops thus far and expect another 57 on the scheduled dates in July and August!  This is in addition to widespread learning sessions in the multiple classrooms at each building that we had set up last spring as a “debut”.  

We also continue to close the fiscal year that ended on June 30, and we prepare for the annual auditors who are scheduled to come spend two weeks conducting field test at the end of the month.  

In addition, the Director of Buildings & Grounds, Charlie Privett, and the B&G team are exceptionally busy working on a variety of projects throughout the district, including:  

Caruso & Shepard Locker Rooms, Security Projects (throughout the district), Casework at Kipling & South Park, Parking Lots at South Park, Walden, Shepard, & Wilmot, Roof Project at Wilmot, Flooring Projects & Painting Projects Throughout the district, and more!

In addition, I published an article in the IL ASCD Summer Journal and I’m working on a few other writing projects.

So … while the students are enjoying much needed recreation time, the leadership team is busy making sure everything will be ready for them in August!

I always smile when folks say “It’s easier in the summer, right?” – nope – but I would not want it any other way.


Teacher & Edu Staff Appreciation Day/Week – Thank You #Engage109

This is teacher, nurse, educational support staff (and administrator) appreciation week! We can never say thank you enough to our educators!! THANK YOU!

I’m sharing a quote I have held closely for many years and I’m sharing two notes I recently sent the DPS109 community.

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes.”
Maya Angelou

Dear District 109 Families and Community Members,

At its last meeting, the Board of Education declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017 as Teacher Appreciation Day in District 109. Please join the Board of Education and the District administration team in applauding our teachers and all of the educators and support staff throughout District 109 who work so hard each day. We have high-achieving, nationally recognized, innovative, warm and welcoming schools because amazing teachers engage, inspire and empower our students – your children, grandchildren, and the children of your friends and neighbors!

I encourage you to find a way to show your support to your favorite teacher, or any school staff member who makes a difference in the lives of the children in our community. Whether you write a heartfelt, handwritten note, have your child create a work of art, or just go out of your way to say a personal “Thank you,” you are giving a great gift. They deserve all the thanks that we can shower upon them!


“If we neglect our gifts and talents, they, like an unused muscle, will atrophy and waste away.”  Stephen Covey

Dear District 109 Teachers and Staff,

The Board of Education recently approved our 2017 Strategic Plan. The planning process was both reflective and forward thinking, and very eye-opening to me. I realized how much we have accomplished in four short years.  I also acknowledge and thank you for being open to change. I know that’s not easy. Your leaps of faith and constant hard work have allowed our students to thrive, and schools to achieve local, regional and national recognition. In the strategic planning process we should all be proud of the input and impact of that input. Your voices and your input helped shape the goals, objectives and plans. I look forward to working with you and for you to achieve our goals in the coming years.

On April 24, the Board of Education declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017 Teacher Appreciation Day in District 109. The community will celebrate you throughout the week. To show our thanks, the District administration and Board will provide a gift and special treat at some point during the week. They are small tokens of our boundless appreciation of you and your continual work to engage, inspire and empower our students, their parents, your colleagues, and our community.

So THANK YOU, from me personally, and from the Board of Education and District leaders, for allowing us to work with the best team of educators in the nation.


Assessment is far more than a grade – A caring teacher’s impact on me


“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin


With President’s Day approaching (February 20, 2017) I thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts about how a college professor from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency from many years ago impacted my life and my professional journey. A journey that currently has some powerful meaning/relevance with our district’s move to standards based grading and reporting at the middle school. With this blog post, I’ll draw the connections!

As a former 6th and 8th grade social studies teacher (U.S. history, civics, law, world history, reading, etc.) I have a deep interest in our nation’s culture, history, values, beliefs, celebrations, etc. In addition, I hold a degree in political science, so I have been a “policy wonk” for many years, and to this day I follow the news, politics, etc. With President’s Day approaching I am reminded of the powerful impact a professor’s act of kindness and care from many years ago and from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency.

While I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, I had some of the best teachers in my life. The late Dr. Twiley Barker Jr., Dr. Kevin Lyles, and Dr. Andrew McFarland, to name a few. During a course on the American Presidency, POLS 229, an event took place in my life that impacted my philosophies, beliefs, and actions as a teacher and educational leader over the past 25 years. In some ways it likely shaped my philosophies and impact as a teacher and as an educational leader so many years later. Right now there is a current challenging transition from percentage grades to standards based grades at the middle school level in my district. Looking back at my personal educational history, I’m reminded of why meaningful feedback, teacher /student relationships, and the mastery of content and the flexibility of instruction supersedes any percentage grade or mark in terms of meaningful feedback and communication about learning.

In our district right now we are engaged in a transformation/change process with learning, teaching, grading, reporting and assessing. The implementation of standards based grading, reporting and assessment is ongoing in our school district; there were pretty much no problems when we made the change at the elementary school level (K-5) four years ago.

This is the first year of the middle school implementation of the standards based system, the transition is challenging in part because there is confusion and inconsistency as well as the fact that it is change and that in and of itself causes challenges.

One of the cornerstones of transitioning to standards based learning, grading, etc. is the mindset shift and the concept shift. For example, with the concept shift of instructional change, the zero goes away. The concept of NO MORE ZERO grades and the concept of mastery (or do-over) becomes the focus. Grades/reporting/assessment results are NOT used for “responsibility” or “reward” or “preparation for the next level in education”, instead grades/reporting/assessment results are used to communicate what is learned, what needs to be learned and what is next to be learned. With this blog post, I’m reflecting on the congruity of an impactful event in my life during an undergraduate course, and the realization that this impactful event has impacted my beliefs whether I consciously knew about it or not. This is an “aha” moment for me – this is partially why I so strongly believe the growing pains and transition are worth the time, effort, energy, and extra work involved in the middle school standards based grading situation.

Change is hard (I’ve written a lot about the change process) – Unlearning is hard (I have also written about this concept).

My college professor Dr. Andrew McFarland gave me a chance in the “real world” -when I was in college. Because he knew me, he knew what kind of student I was – he knew my passion for political science he treated me like I was more than a percentage or a score. Dr. McFarland also taught so that students would learn. He had high standards for each and every student and he held himself to high standards too.

So what is this all about? What is this big event that caused me an “aha” moment? Dr. McFarland called me one night while I was eating dinner with my parents; it was 5:30pm – I don’t know how I remember this fact, but I do. This event took place in 1988 or 1999 and I still vividly remember our call!

He called me that night because earlier that day when I took the final exam, I inadvertently forgot to answer one or two additional questions. If Dr. McFarland graded or assessed based on the “old” system I would have received an F. Dr. McFarland, though, was using standards based learning and instruction (whether he or I knew it or not). He called me on the phone and asked me to respond to the final exam question prompts – for 30 maybe 60 minutes. Because he cared about learning – not about percentages or “harsh” lessons, I was able to demonstrate mastery and competency of the American Presidency course (in which I did earn an A, not only because of what I learned, but more importantly, because my professor cared about discovering what his students knew).

He assessed my knowledge acquisition in an alternative learning setting because my teacher was more concerned about assessing my learning and mastery than he was about issuing a grade or a percentage. Had this caring professor used traditional methods I would have failed the exam. In my opinion and in my experiences, standards based grading, reporting, learning, and assessment actually prepares people for real life by holding them accountable to learn. Thank you Dr. McFarland!

You see, opponents to mastery grading, or standards based grading & reporting systems think the “old” 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 percentage system somehow makes sense (it does not) and somehow prepares people for “the real world” (it does not) or prepares them for high school/college.

Well it doesn’t do any of that; but it’s hard for people to unlearn what they know and what they think they know.

It’s hard for people to accept new research studies and effects when those new studies and effects are different than what they experienced.

Our district will transition and in partnership with parents, teachers, administrators, and students, we will do what is best for students. I’m grateful to a wonderful college professor who made a lasting impact on me. A teacher’s impact is lasting and forever; let’s use grades, reporting, and assessment to build strong learned people. Let’s use modern instructional strategies to maximize the impact and effect. Let’s help people unlearn practices that make no sense other than to have been used in their past school experiences. Preparing students for the future world requires teaching them content that is meaningful in learning environments that are powerfully purposeful and full of clear, regular, meaningful feedback and opportunities to learn and demonstrate learning.

Perspective and Context – #Engage109

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your actions.”
– Dalai Lama 

As we approach this holiday season and the end of 2016 many people are busy getting the “new year’s resolutions” … eat better, exercise more, spend more time in nature, etc… The end of year is a fine 2017time for reflection and contemplation.

Did we accomplish what we set out to accomplish in 2016? Did we do the best we could for ourselves, our families, our co-workers, our communities? Did we listen enough to opposing viewpoints? Did we stand up for what is right? Questions like those and so many more fill our minds and hearts as the work world slows down, if only for the week between Christmas and New Years Day.20140803-165030.jpg

Whatever we did in 2016 … it’s coming to a close.

2017 allows us new opportunities, new learning, new challenges, and new realities! As this year comes to a close, and as I write the final blog post of 2016, I realized that my blog, in effect since July 2013, has about 300 posts.

So in roughly three and a half years I’ve written 300 posts, responded to about 100 comments; there have been 50,000 page views with an average reader spending a minute and a half reading the posts. Google Analytics reports that there have been 23,458 users engaging in one form or another with the blog. 40% of the blog readers are regulars and 60% of the readers are categorized as new visitors. This is pretty cool – in the context of one person’s blog. Is this significant in terms of all bloggers? Is this significant in the blog world of superintendents? Depends on the context of review.

Readers of this blog hail from the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Japan, and some 1100 sessions unidentified.

The title of this blog post Perspective and Context came to me after viewing the following video that gives perspective to how earth relates to the rest of the “universe”. The context is “space” and size:

Our universe, this blog, your identity – all form ‘parts of wholes’. Wherever we are in time and space, from wherever we hail, we are significant and meaningful. Ideally we always add value to our family, our community, our world. We, though, are but a small parts of a larger reality.

Regardless of our perspectives, our importance, our perspectivevalue, we must be mindful of context. We also must be mindful that each new year allows us to learn more, to grow more, to do a better job than perhaps we did last year.

The new year allows us to “reset” to redo, to start whatever it is we’re doing with fresh eyes. Perspective and Context guide and define our thoughts and actions.

Earlier this year in the Deerfield Public Schools District 109, we spent time looking at two films: Beyond Measure and Most Likely to Succeed. Both were shown to hundreds of people in our community. Both challenged long held assumptions about public education and the forms of instruction best suited for our future. Both challenged our perspectives and caused a review of our context. I wrote blog posts about these films and the viewing experiences.


As we approach 2017, I’m equally as energized with hope and vision about the realities we will create here in Deerfield, IL, and Riverwoods, IL (my small parts of the world) on behalf of students, staff, and community. We are on the forefront of causing change, perhaps forcing change in some contexts on behalf of the future we are creating – like it or not – we in education are future creators.

Are we supporting structures and systems that perpetuate the 1893 era thinking and needs and context? Or do we change our perspective and support structures designed for future context.

Happy New Year 2017

Best wishes to us all to consider our perspectives and to consider our contexts, and to realize the value and power of change for innovation, improvement, and the future.





5 Minutes in 5th Grade – Podcast of Student Voice – #Engage109

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Many years ago when I taught 8th grade students U.S. history and reading at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, Illinois, the team of teachers with whom I worked grappled with the home/school communication conundrum. We did not have ready access to email or blackhawkmiddleschoolwebsites back then, and we did not always have the most compelling “packets” and paper reminders going home.

So we set up a weekly communication for the parents called “Behind the Nothing”. This was a letter which was a letter written by each student each week for their parents to see and learn what the students learned that week.

You see for most of our students, back then, when their parents would ask, “What did you learn today at school?”, the student would almost always reply, “nothing”. So we decided to create a communication from the student voice and from the student perspectives as a new way to inform their parents what they were learning! Well . . . a lot has happened in education, communication, and technology since 1993 when I first started teaching! Of course students were learning then and they are learning now!

In today’s blog post I’m sharing 5 minutes in 5th grade, a five minute podcast withwhatdidyoulearn students telling the listener what they learned at a recent outdoor education experience. Today’s teacher is equipped with far more tools for communication than the teacher of 1993. Using the application AudioBoom, I recorded the student’s voices on my iPhone. Click the link below to spend 5 minutes in 5th grade!

Special thank you to Dr. Dave Sherman, Ms. Megan Chin, Ms. Keidan, Ms. Kramer, and Mr. Templer and their awesome South Park School 5th grade students!