11/25/13 8:22am

Shelter Island School Superintendent Michael Hynes

It seems the debate about High Stakes Testing and the Common Core Standards are at an all-time high. The crescendo of negativity that is surrounding our New York State Department of Education has made its way out to the eastern end of Long Island and I for one am delighted. Public education is at a crossroads. I am extremely passionate about our public education system but for it to thrive, some things need to change. (more…)

10/20/12 8:00am

JULIE LANE FILE PHOTO | Shelter Island School Superintendent Michael Hynes.

As I was re-reading some of my books about educational leadership over the past few weeks, I stumbled upon one of my favorite authors, Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan has written several books about education over the past 25 years.

The following excerpt was taken from one of his best, “The New Meaning of Educational Change” (2001, 3rd Edition).

The reason I am sharing this piece with you is due to the timeliness of what is happening within our school and what he wrote in his best-selling book.

Below you will find the essence of “Chapter 1: A Brief History of Educational Change.” Some parts were left out due to the fact it is a relatively long chapter, but amazing nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it and will welcome any comments you may have to share.

One person claims that schools are being bombarded by change; another observes that there is nothing new under the sun. A policy-maker charges that teachers are resistant to change; a teacher complains that administrators introduce change for their own self-aggrandizement and that they neither know what is needed nor understand the classroom. A parent is bewildered by the new practice in reading and by the relevance of education in future jobs. Some argue that restructuring schools is the only answer, while others decry that this too is just a pipe dream diverting our attention from the core curriculum changes that are desperately needed. One university professor is convinced that schools are only a reflection of society and cannot be expected to bring change; another professor is equally convinced that schools would be all right if only superintendents and principals had more “vision” as educational leaders, and teachers were more motivated to learn new approaches to improving curriculum. A governor works hard to get major new legislation passed to reform education, a principal thinks, “this too shall pass.” Charter schools are hailed simultaneously as saving the day and destroying the public education system. Commercial entities take over school districts and claim that they can do a better job. States pass dramatic legislation to serve notice to “failing schools” and “failing school districts” with corresponding invasive interventions intended to make things right. Standards-based reform is held up as the answer to our woes.

Amidst all the turmoil, agents at all levels wonder how to get more and more programs institutionalized, while teachers think it is these same promoters of change who should be institutionalized, not the programs. Students are too distracted by a host of other matters to pay much attention to all the uproar. Today it is abundantly clear that one of the keys to successful change is improvement of relationships (Fullan, 2001) — precisely the focus of group development.

We have learned over the past decade that the process of educational reform is much more complex than we anticipated. Even the apparent successes have fundamental flaws. For example, in our development work we have been interested in how long it takes to turn around a poor performing school or district to become a good or better performing system. Our current conclusion is that you can turn around an elementary school in about three years, a high school in about six years, and a school district (depending on the size) in about eight years (Fullan, 1999, 2000b).

As valid as these general conclusions are, there are three problems. First, the time lines are too long. Given the sense of urgency, people rightly ask: Can these time lines be accelerated? Say reduced by half? The answer is yes, which we will see does not solve the problem.

Second, the number of examples of turnaround is small. There is only a minority of elementary schools, and fewer high schools and school districts, that are engaged in this manner. In other words, we have not nearly gone to scale where the majority of schools improve. It is not enough to have a handful of successful cases. 

Third, and most revealing, it takes three, six, eight years of hard work to produce improvement, but the results are fragile. One or two key people leave and the success can be undone almost overnight. Thus, from the point of view of “sustaining change,” even in those small numbers of cases, there are serious problems.

The main reason change fails to occur in the first place on any scale, and does not get sustained when it does, is that the infrastructure is weak, unhelpful, or working at cross purposes. By infrastructure I mean the next layers above whatever unit we are focusing on. In terms of successive levels, for example, a teacher cannot sustain change if he or she is working in a negative school culture; similarly, a school can initiate and implement successful change, but cannot sustain it if operating in a less than helpful district; a district cannot keep going if it works in a state which is not helping to sustain reform. 

In other words we have our work cut out. This is not a race to see who can become the most innovative. The key words are meaning, coherence, connectedness, synergy, alignment, and capacity for continuous improvement. Paradoxically, if meaning is easy to come by it is less likely to be powerful. Simple systems are more meaningful but less deep. Complex systems generate overload and confusion, but also contain more power and energy. Our task is to realize that finding meaning in complex systems is a difficult as it is rewarding. 

In closing, I believe Mr. Fullan clearly articulates what is presently taking place at our school. I believe we now have meaning, coherence, connectedness, synergy, alignment and the capacity for continuous improvement. As I have said before, our school won’t get to Point B overnight, but we will get there and our children will be all the better for it.

References:

Fullan, M. (1999) “Change Forces. The Sequel,” Philadelphia: Falmer Press/Taylor & Francis Inc.

Fullan, M. (June 23, 2000), “Infrastructure Is All,” London Times Education Supplement, 19, p.15

Fullan, M. (2001) “Leading in a Culture of Change,” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

07/21/12 11:51am

JULIE LANE FILE PHOTO | Shelter Island School Superintendent Michael Hynes.

This past year, the Shelter Island School District made significant strides toward offering our students the best education within a small public school setting.

The vision for our school district outlines steps that will continue to enable us to improve incrementally year after year. The three areas we are focusing on include increasing the academic performance and output for our students, defining the operating principles of fiscal transparency and conservatism, and augmenting the capital improvements to our school building. This is a huge undertaking that requires our Board of Education and staff to keep our priorities focused on the tasks at hand. Overall we are seeking to move in an upward fashion each year so we can continuously improve our efforts and outcomes.

When I began my tenure last June, our school was balancing ever so delicately toward a tipping point, the point at which we had a choice to stay the same and continue to earn the same results (which is very safe); or to make a choice to move forward in a direction that will shape our school and students for many years to come. This involves making hard choices that in turn will make some people unhappy and/or uneasy. I am proud to say we chose to begin our journey moving “upward.”

Much has happened over this past year. This article will outline what has transpired thus far and articulate what you can expect for years to come. We cannot make these changes alone, nor would we want to. It is important that we have support from the Shelter Island community to move our school from Point A to Point B.

What is Point A? Point A is where we started last June. Our school was in a state of flux, waiting to make a commitment to either remain the same or begin the road toward marked improvement. Point A embraces offering the same classes year after year, watching things stay the same and accepting average performance when, in fact, students are capable of working harder academically, socially and emotionally. Point A is homeostasis. I know firsthand that some school districts are comfortable being complacent. Point B on the other hand is where our school aspires to be. Point B is where our expectations are raised not only for our students but also for ourselves as educators, parents and community members. Point B is the target at which we become a high-performing school and district.

Last summer, I defined my 100-Day Plan to our community. This plan had two primary objectives: Establish relationships with the Board of Education and people associated with the district and community and conduct a comprehensive organizational review and analysis. Last summer I also shared with our community the research that defined and supported the attributes of a high-performing school. According to AERA (Administration American Education Research), this school has nine common characteristics:

1. Clear and shared focus;

2. high standards and expectations;

3. effective school leadership;

4. high levels of collaboration and communication;

5. curriculum, instruction and assessment aligned with standards;

6. frequent monitoring of teaching and learning;

7. focused professional development;

8. supportive learning environment; and

9. high levels of community and parent involvement.

The first half of last year focused on implementing the 100-Day Plan. The second half enabled me to begin to analyze the beginning of our journey of working toward becoming a high- performing school.

First, in my attempt to establish relationships and solicit feedback from meetings, I conferenced individually with our graduating classes of 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 as well as with every staff member within our school (teachers, custodians, assistants, etc.), in addition to meeting with members of the PTSA, Lions Club and the Shelter Island Association. The feedback shared with me ranged from the importance of knowing students names, the need to increase academic rigor, enrichment of students, the need to increase morale of the faculty to the appreciation of the history of our Island and school district. Feedback also consisted of the desire to settle the union contracts, to submit a responsible budget to the community and to improve student achievement.

Second, after meeting school staff and the Board of Education, the Comprehensive Organizational Review revealed the need for our school to create clearer protocols and internal procedures; to design effective and efficient communication with staff and community; the need for curriculum alignment with the new Common Core Standards; the need to create curriculum maps for every subject K-12 and update textbooks and technology. In addition, needs were identified to define and implement a New York State mandated Response to Intervention (RTI) guide and protocols for our school.

The review also concluded that our librarian needed a newly defined role, our students needed an Elementary Foreign Language Program and it was imperative that the school review and update our old Code of Conduct. Finally, the review ended with the need for increased supervision in special education, the necessity for the Business Office to be more stable as well as the district to provide ample support for our Buildings and Grounds Office regarding the summer capital work that is currently taking place.

Last year, our school began our slow ascent to Point B. With the support of the Board of Education and the community, we accomplished the following:

1. introduced new courses for next year including an Intel Research and Journalism class;

2. piloted iPads in our third grade class, with a vision to expand this technology throughout our school;

3. renewed the Elementary Foreign Language Push-in Program;

4. restored our librarian to full-time;

5. introduced K/1 classroom and third and fourth grade team teaching;

6. created a fiscally prudent budget that remained within the tax cap and was passed by the community;

7. settled the teacher contract;

8. redesigned the lobby to beautify and celebrate the history of our school;

9. oversaw the retirement of K-12 teachers and other staff;

10. appointed new K-12 teachers and other staff;

11. undertook Business Official responsibilities and consolidated my role as superintendent and principal to bring stability to the Business Office (after three different business officials in one year) at no extra cost to the district;

12. appointed Ms. Rylott as academic administrator to supervise special education, RTI and serve as school data specialist at no extra cost to the school district;

13. supervised capital construction and beautification of the school building, creating a sense of a new beginning and school pride;

14. created an academic suite and student support suite for students;

15. initiated the process of kindergarten-eighth grade ELA and math textbook adoption;

16. facilitated the creation of a walking track for students and community members; and

17. implemented new high school graduation traditions.

The future of our school will continue to move “upward.” I am extremely excited about our new staff joining us to move toward our destination of becoming a high performing school. We have much work to do and expectations will be high. It is imperative we stay focused and keep our eye on the prize, which is the enhancement of student achievement within our school.

Come September, our work will spread to the development and successful implementation of the APPR guidelines as mandated by New York State; develop teacher learning plans and their evaluation; develop our RTI program with Ms. Rylott’s supervision; create individualized student learning plans for all students; maintain fiscal conservatism as the budget process unfolds; craft a new athletic display site outside the gymnasium to celebrate the accomplishments of Shelter Island athletes; and, finally, complete the final phases of capital construction work on our school building.

The tipping point has come and gone. This process toward increasing standards will take time and is bound to have both setbacks and successes. Let us learn from the setbacks and celebrate the successes. This school is on the precipice of evolving into what it should be: a beacon of light in which opportunities for our students are never out of reach. I believe the most challenging part about changing a system is the continuing struggle to balance the cultural norms of our past while creating a new culture for the future. I promise that we will be mindful of this as we move together toward Point B. I look forward to our journey together.

01/27/12 2:00pm

The future of our school

There is nothing like making a pot of coffee, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. I love hard work. I’ve always embraced it and in my career as an educator I’ve always loved the challenge of working with others to improve schools for students. Here on Shelter Island, the future of our school depends on a lot of hard work from all of us within our school.

We have work to do; a lot of work to do. This work is both exciting and important plus it is essential in moving our school into the 21st century. In a way, our school is going through a rebirth, a renaissance of sorts. The work that lies ahead will focus on two things: student achievement and the actual physical school building itself.

Student achievement is an interesting concept as it can be defined in a multitude of ways. To one person, student achievement may mean high scores on a Regent’s exam. To another person, it could mean a child moving up several book levels in an elementary ELA class, or it could mean a student achieving a four (4) on an Advanced Placement exam.

I tend to see student achievement as growth between two points in time — the kind of growth that takes place day to day, month to month and year to year. For student achievement to be meaningful, this growth needs to be documented and utilized by teachers to drive future instruction. The growth that we measure with our students should assist us to differentiate our instruction while making our assessments meaningful.

In order to enhance student achievement, it will take a lot of work. We need to focus on developing a more rigorous curriculum, a cumulative scope and sequence for the courses we offer; updated and upgraded resources for our teachers to use within the classroom; professional development for our teachers so they build their capacity and become better practitioners within their classrooms; a clear understanding of the support services we provide; the creation of a student management database so we can see in “real time” a historical overview of our students’ achievement levels; universal protocols and procedures for almost everything we do, and finally, making our school the educational beacon of light it should be!

We also have a lot of work to do in regard to the physical structure of our beloved school building. As you may know, we will begin our bond work this summer. Our beautiful building will get a much needed update in order to become more efficient and safer for our students and staff. Additionally, our school Historical Committee is currently underway in redesigning our lobby and bringing back the history of Shelter Island and its past alumni. It is all very exciting!

All of the work to enhance student achievement and update our building comes with a price. The price doesn’t have to break the bank, but it does come with a price. Believe me, I understand we have to do more with less and I know that we will be fiscally prudent as the School Board develops our budget, not only for next year but for years to come. Unfortunately, as we work on the budget, we are bombarded with state education constraint after constraint after constraint and these constraints are continually placed upon the backs of our school system.

Whether the constraints surface in the form of unfunded mandates or appear as a new 2-percent tax cap, it will become increasingly difficult to do more with less. In fact, we will reach a tipping point where it will be almost impossible and certainly unsustainable to keep the programs we currently have in place.

I believe our students deserve the best. They deserve the best education. They deserve a top-notch curriculum. They deserve opportunities that will prepare them to succeed if they choose to attend college, join the military or seek a vocation once they graduate from our high school. We need our students to be pushed academically. We need courses that will push our students more. In fact, next year I want to introduce an Intel Research program for our high school students. I also want to offer a journalism course for our students that will allow them to create their own school newspaper and perhaps work with our community newspaper, the Shelter Island Reporter.

I have high hopes for the future of our students. The future of our school is bright but in order for our renaissance to come to fruition, it will take the support of our community to make it a reality.

12/22/11 6:00am

There are many topics I wanted to write about for the month of December. One topic focused on unplugging ourselves. I mean unplugging ourselves from the bombardment of news, television and other forms of electronic devices such as iPads, iPods and the computer. I also contemplated writing about change, both the change that may happen to us as individuals and the change within an organization. Usually change is hard for many of us, even if the change is for the better. I finally settled on writing a few words about respect, in particular, respect for our elders.

When I was a child, I grew up with my grandmother. She lived with me until I was 16 years old. I had a profound respect for her not only as a person, but also as a person who has seen and experienced a lot throughout her years. Over the years, I’ve noticed a gradual decline of respecting our elders.

Maybe it’s me, but I feel there are too many of us who do not have respect for the knowledge, wisdom and life experiences of those who came before us. I notice it when I read the newspaper (both local and national). I notice it when I’m up-island and at a store. I notice it in restaurants. I am pleased to say, however, I don’t notice it on Shelter Island, or at least I don’t notice it within our school. What I do notice are students working with multiple generations of people who both enjoy each other’s company.

Recently, I saw a student hold a door open for a visitor and then assist them to the Main Office. I also experienced students showing much affection to their elders at our holiday concerts this past week.

In closing, I would like to thank our elders who enhance our lives each and every day. Thanking and assisting those who have experienced life longer than we have, deserve our respect. In other cultures, elders are cherished and placed on a pedestal. This holiday season I would like for us to think about and, if possible, thank our elders.

We may not always agree with them but they are a vital part of our lives, the lives within our family, our school and our community. As Abraham Heschel once shared, “A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. The affection and care for the old, the incurable and the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

Happy holidays and I look forward to an exciting new year within our school and in our Shelter Island community.