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.