August 29, 2017

Illinois School Finance
While talking to a superintendent last week about the status of funding for Illinois public schools, he mentioned that he had recently talked to a veteran superintendent who could remember the time when the state financial support for public education was much different than it is today. I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. As a veteran Illinois superintendent, I can remember when making budget predictions for the upcoming school year I always used a $100 increase in the foundation level as a starting point. For years, a $100 increase in the foundation level resulted in a $100M increase in spending on Illinois public schools.
The following represents the actual increase or decrease in GSA since 1998:

Fiscal Year
Foundation Level
Inc or Dec
Obviously, these figures are not absolute dollar amounts and do not take into account inflation or other factors. Salaries, utilities, purchased services, health insurance, technology and many other costs have risen in the last eight years.
Most superintendents today did not serve as superintendents in the era of increasing state support for public education. All these superintendents know is that state funding for public education decreased from 2012 until 2016. In FY 16 and 17, Illinois passed budgets to get the foundation level back to $6,119 which in reality was the goal of the 2010 budget. Just using the above mentioned $100 increase in GSA, the 2017 foundation level should have been $6,819. I wonder how much more revenue your district would have received over those eight years?
Peer Mentoring
In my ten years at IASA supporting new superintendents, I have discovered one important finding. Those new superintendents who ask questions, have an informal or formal mentor, seek peer relationships within their region and continue professional relationships with administrators they respect and look up to continue to be the most successful first year superintendents.
It is very important to establish a peer-to-peer relationship with at least one other school superintendent and hopefully with several other superintendents. For teachers we call this Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Administrators need PLC's also. Participate in your local IASA Region meetings and make connections with area superintendents. Hopefully you have formalized a relationship with a "mentor" for your first year and, if not, perhaps you can contact past administrators that you have worked with or know. It's important to have someone with experience that you can bounce ideas off or gather information from when making critical decisions.  Remember, IASA provides a mentor to first year superintendents at no cost. 
The most important point of this discussion is to ask multiple people questions about the same topic so that you can gather as much information as possible before making important decisions or recommendations. Reaching out to others for advice and support increases the lifeblood for success as a school superintendent.
How does a teacher evaluator have time to adequately observe teachers for the new performance-based teacher evaluation system?
Performance-Based Teacher Evaluation is very complicated and it requires fundamental due process for teachers. By my last estimation there will be seven legal documents that your district will wrestle with in this new system. They include: 1) Teacher Collective Bargaining Contract; 2) Teacher Evaluation Plan; 3) RIF Joint Committee Document; 4) PERA Joint Committee Document; 5) District Work Rules; 6) School Board Policy Manual; and 7) Part 50 Rules.
Administrators will need to be aware of how the information in these documents affects performance-based teacher evaluation. The burden of proof will be much greater on the administrator to correctly operationalize all the processes related to teacher evaluation and then as a cumulative act, rate the teacher. The legal concept that a tenured teacher can now lose their position due to their summative rating is a major change from past procedures.
In addition to the legal challenges to this evaluation work is the idea that staff development and improvement of teaching has been and will continue to be a major emphasis of the teacher evaluation process. In my blog post I write about how we need to concentrate on improving teaching not rating teaching. We need to provide professional staff development and training in the areas for individual teachers that do not earn high summative ratings. Teacher evaluation needs to transform into an intellectually engaging experience for the teacher. The evaluator needs to be skillful in the use of reflective questioning to get the teacher to commit to a personal professional development plan for improvement.
Teacher evaluation will change from a mostly "compliance" issue to a "growth" issue with legal intended and unintended consequences.
Classrooms need to be intellectually engaging experiences for students. No longer will it be proficient for classrooms to be teacher centered. The days of teachers lecturing and students taking notes are over as students must be "minds on" not "hands on." Education is about "learning" not about "doing."
Teacher evaluators can no longer schedule one formal observation, which I often characterize as the "The Dog and Pony Show" and one informal observation and think that this will suffice for possible teacher reduction under the new PERA act. It never was sufficient and it is even less so now that teacher tenure and teacher employment has changed.
So how does the administrator find the time to observe teacher's multiple times during the evaluation cycle? There is only one way I know how to accomplish this goal. The administrator has to schedule time to conduct the observations. In addition to the observations, it is my opinion, that the administrator must follow each observation with a "reflective conversation" with the teacher if either expects any change to occur based on the evidence collected in the observation.
Using simple math to do the calculations I will use the following as an example. Assuming a teacher evaluator has 20 teachers to evaluate and using the Voltz Protocol of 10 observations per teacher per cycle (eight informal and two formal) then the evaluator has to schedule 200 (10 X 20) observations in a two-year cycle for a tenured teacher. Assuming all the teachers are tenured, the evaluator would have 252 (176 X 2) school days to do this work, not quite one per day. However, if each observation is followed by a reflective conversation between the teacher and the evaluator this evaluator would have 400 time slots to schedule or 1.58 per day. Again, we have made major assumptions such as the evaluator being able to be available every day to observe and/or reflect. Let's assume the evaluator cannot work on teacher observation/reflection on 10% of the available days, this reduces the total of days to 227 days. The new daily schedule will require 1.76 or 2 observations/reflections per day.
Another major assumption is that the administrator has two full years to conduct the observations/reflections. We know for sure that the non-tenured teachers will need the protocol every year and we are also making a huge assumption that observations/reflections can be conducted every school day. This will entail a major shift in the evaluation cycle and reporting of summative evaluation scores, a topic for another blog post.
The key points made in the blog are that the teacher evaluator needs to conduct multiple observations/reflections with his/her teachers and will need to dedicate part of every school day to get this done. The administrator will need to block out times to schedule this work in order to make sure it gets done.
Tell Your Public about the Positive Things Happening in Your District
We often only hear the negative things happening in K-12 public education. It is your role and the role of your staff to get the positive news communicated to your community. A great way to communicate is via social media and your district website. Have you thought about using Twitter or Facebook to communicate with your community? Some districts are using audio and/or video Podcasting. Talk with your administrators and find out what the schools are doing now and discuss these new Medias.
Crisis Planning
There have been many instances of students bringing guns or weapons into schools over the last several years. I would advise you (as you are new to the district) to review your school crisis plans. Each of your schools should have a school crisis plan on how to handle situations that endanger student and staff safety. We are entrusted to keep the children of the community safe at school. If an unfortunate incident should occur in one of your schools, your goal is to keep everybody safe.
After you have reviewed the crisis plan, I would suggest that you convene a meeting with your local law enforcement, fire department, and emergency response personnel to get their recommendations on how to handle various emergencies. Representatives from these agencies are the experts in your community and they understand your community.  Other school administrators, resource officers (if you have any), and representatives from the teacher and support staff associations should also be included in these discussions.
A common theme I've noticed when reading newspaper accounts of safety incidents is that some parents have been critical that the administration at the school did not notify them of the threat to safety but the school knew how to tell the public when they were dismissing school due to heat or canceling school due to adverse winter weather.
In my opinion, the reason this becomes such a big problem so quickly is because of the availability of cell phones and popularity of social media. Even though most schools do not allow students to carry cell phones while in school, we all know that many students still carry cell phones. As soon as an incident occurs, students start calling parents. Thus, it makes it difficult for administrators to try to deal with the critical crisis issue at hand and also deal with parent notification.
Some districts have purchased calling services that can instantly notify all parents of a situation, whether that is closing school due to adverse weather, notification of a crisis, or notification of an upcoming parent-teacher conference day. As a former superintendent, I can tell you that I would want to make sure I notified parents as soon as possible. A call-out system seems like a good solution, if your district can afford the expense. If you cannot afford a calling system try to get a grant to pay for the hardware. At the least, you should have personnel available to call the news media - including radio and television stations - to get your message out the same way you would for inclement weather. I have found it good practice to have a secretary trained to do this because administrators are usually busy with the crisis at hand.
Again, in my opinion, it is important to ensure the safety of your students and staff. If an unfortunate incident should happen in your school district, you will eventually be facing the media and explaining what you did to keep students and staff safe. The more prepared you are in this regard, the better the school district will look in the eyes of the parents and the public.
Tip of the Week
Paul Houston (past AASA Executive Director) and Doug Eadie have published The Board-Savvy Superintendent. In the book they state, "The old-time passive-reactive school board that merely responds to finished staff work cannot provide the leadership that the times demand: in making truly strategic decisions, in selecting key district innovation targets, in monitoring district educational and administrative performance, and in building district ties to the wider community."
The point they are making is that the old adage of the Board making policy and the Superintendent managing the school district is not an accurate depiction of board-superintendent relationships. I totally agree with these writers. In my experiences as a superintendent, I never served a school board that wanted to devote itself entirely to policy and left the leadership and management of the school district up to the administration. The board members I served with were professional people who were intelligent, active community members. They were concerned about the education of all students. They had great leadership and management ideas that we were able to learn from and implement.
In your role as a new superintendent, use the talents of your school board members to maximize the educational opportunities you can give to your students. The relationship between the Board and the Superintendent is not distinct. The relationship is constantly changing and superintendents need to adapt to the needs of the Board and the community. Involve your board and your community in determining the mission, vision, and goals of their schools.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
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