Monday, January 15, 2018

Looking Back on a Semester Filled with Success


First semester has flown by and we are now on the downhill slide of a great year. Let’s take a look back at a few of the notable highlights from our first semester:

**Solar Eclipse - This was a day that will long live in the memories of our students. We had an awesome hour and half out on the football field enjoying a sack lunch and once in a lifetime opportunity to view totality.

**Cross Country Teams Qualify for State - To culminate an outstanding season both our boys and girls cross country teams qualified for the state competition. The bulldog runners were among the best in the state and Karissa Benavides brought home an individual medal.

**Volleyball Makes the Sub-State Final - The girls VB team ended their season with a loss in the sub-state final to an outstanding team from Superior. Superior went on to win the state championship and our girls played them as close as anyone did all season long.

**One Acts State Qualification - The One Acts Team qualified for the state competition in Norfolk for the first time in a few years. The team racked up several awards over the course of the season and went on to finish 4 in the state.

**30+ ACT Club - Bridgeport High School is home to 7 current students who have scored a 30 or higher on the ACT. You would be hard pressed to find another school that can compare with that.

**Believers and Achievers - Jack Linders was named as an NSAA Believer and Achiever for his outstanding work and academic record throughout high school. Jack is proof that hard work does pay off!

**RHOP/KHOP Finalists - Bridgeport is home to three students were selected to be interviewed for the RHOP or KHOP scholarship. The finalists were Emily Baxter, Jack Linders, & Natalie Ramirez. Jack and Emily were both selected to the KHOP program in Kearney.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Rising to the Challenge of the ACT


Bridgeport High School takes preparing students for the ACT very serious.  This is evidenced by the 7 current students we have enrolled who have scored over a 30 on the ACT.  Helping our students outscore their cohorts across the country is tied directly to our commitment to doing what we can to make sure every students is college and career ready and has the opportunity to earn coveted college scholarships.  Our approach to ACT preparation starts early in their high school career. 

In Mrs. Rodak's English 9 class, she focuses on test taking strategies and students are introduced to the ACT material.  In Mrs. Rodak's 10th grade English class students take a practice ACT and the Pre-ACT test.  Mrs. Rodak also does some targeted ACT prep with her English classes throughout the year.  10th graders are also invited to take part in the On To College prep (John Baylor) prep class.  Once students reach their 11th grade, the ACT prep focus continues.  Mrs. Schmunk & Mrs. Favinger each do targeted ACT math prep/practice for their students.  Juniors also go through the On To College in Mrs. Dohse's and Mr. Johnson's classes.  Juniors also have access to Online ACT Prep (AOP) and utilize that on during the ACT Prep class offered second semester.  In addition to all of this targeted prep, Bridgeport also invites Chad Cargill an ACT test consultant to our school in March for all of our 10th and 11th graders.  Below is an expanded description of each of those ACT prep tools.

Pre-ACT

The PreACT is one of the first actionable steps you will take to be college ready. Designed for 10th graders, PreACT offers sophomores an early experience with ACT test items, provides a predicted ACT test score, and offers a wealth of information to help them get the start they need to be college ready.  The PreACT contains multiple-choice tests in four areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. The results from the PreACT can be used to help students make adjustments in their high school course work and make more productive plans for their future
On To College
On To College ACT is the new brand of John Baylor ACT Prep.  The OTC prep consists of 13 video sessions with selected homework related to each session. The sessions teach the strategies to master and decipher ACT questions.  Specifically, John teaches the 22 grammar rules, the math rules, and science test how to's.  Students who go through this course are almost guaranteed to jump their ACT up a couple of points.  Students at Bridgeport who have scored over 30 swear by John Baylor and OTC prep as a primary reason for their success.



Online ACT Prep

ACT online prep is the web-based version of targeted and adaptive ACT prep from ACT.  This version of prep includes the ability for students to take a pretest and then engaged in a prescribed ACT program aimed at their individual needs.

Chad Cargill
Chad Cargill is an ACT prep and motivational speaker from Oklahoma.  Chad took the ACT 19 times in high school and is the reason that ACT now limits the number of times a student can take the ACT.  Chad raised his score from a 19 to 32 simply by retesting and learning the material on the test.  Chad speaks to audiences and gives them a 'Cliff Notes' version of ACT prep and the motivation to do well on test day. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Change Through the Lens of Being New

The countdown is on to our first day with staff (T-minus 10 days 8/15) and students (T-minus 17 days 8/22) and the feeling of excitement for the new school year is very palpable.  Teacher traffic in the building is increasing daily and students are beginning to trickle in for the required forms and schedule changes.  This time of year brings both anticipation and anxiety for many.  In my own preparation for this coming school I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with former colleagues and friends Dave Evertson (@daveevertson) and Patty Wolfe (@wolfep) that created a lightbulb moment for me -- Change is good, but even better when we can build upon what we already have.

For both students and staff, this time of year is exciting because of the prospect of 'what is possible'.  But it is also riddled with anxiety because of the 'UKNOWN'.  To curb that anxiety it is important to start with the foundation of 'what won't change' or more accurately 'what we already know'.  This coming school year will be filled with many changes for me personally.  These changes in my life will also affect many others, given the fact that I will be serving as a new 7-12 principal.

Change is more difficult for some people.  However, a recent article written by George Couros focused on the idea of the 'Beautiful Discomfort of 'New'.  George's Innovator's Mindset was came through loud and clear.  He challenges us to be willing to experience our current reality from the perspective of 'being new'.  It is through the lens of 'being new' that we are able to evaluate, reflect, and adapt.  The challenge then becomes to build a culture where we as teachers and educational leaders are willing to take on the role of learner and 'be new' to every day.

The 16-17 school year will see our district focus on two themes: 1. Building Relationships & 2. Teamwork.  These are not just my goals, but our district wide goals supported by activities at both the secondary and elementary levels.  It is going to be an exciting to travel down the road of 'new together'.  It is my hope that this year is characterized with all teachers, students and community members looking upon this year as an opportunity to both change and build upon what already have.  It will take time and energy to do this, but by sharing in a common goal and walking the road together we will all find it easier.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Discovering the Obvious - Communication as a foundation for strong relationships

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for me as I am beginning to settle into the role of principal.  One of best experiences so far has been this past week as I have hosted three "New Principal Meet & Greet" sessions with staff.  During these sessions, the teachers have been the leaders, they determined the direction of our conversation, they found their voice, and were empowered to share with me the critical information I need to effectively lead.  They shared their excitement, their past frustrations, and their concerns going forward.  I believe that one of the outcomes from these meetings will an understanding I truly do want our teachers to have a voice.

Image result for collective intelligence
The idea of giving students a voice in education is a great idea that is gaining traction in our schools today.  So, why isn't that we hear just as much clamor about 'Teacher Voice'?  Teachers are where the rubber meets the road and it is imperative to make sure there is a place at the table for the teacher voice as we navigate the changing landscape of education.  One of my core values, and one of my biggest goals this year, is to build strong relationships with students, teachers, and stakeholders founded on honest & authentic communication.  Nothing is revolutionary about student voice, nothing is revolutionary about stakeholder voice, but far too often we don't consider the teacher voice.  

I am realizing the older I get, the less I know (my wife would probably agree @AlisaFavinger).  The longer I work in education, the more I realize that I don't have the answers to our challenges or our innovations.  This week, the teacher conversations that I have been part of proved that point time and again.  I was amazed to witness the  evolution of our teachers voice in our meet & greet sessions.  What started as nervous apprehension quickly grew into open expression of concern and then morphed into expression of their ideas.  Time & again I was impressed with the thought they have given to the challenges they spoke of and to the questions they posed to me.  Our teachers are one of our greatest resources in finding solutions in our schools.  If we want to build a culture in our schools where everyone feels valued, then we must begin with a foundation of communication and value all the perspectives offered. 

Last night, I came across a video on Facebook by deception artist Rick Lax who produces magic & optical illusion videos.  The video was a take on our current political dichotomy encouraging us to listen to both sides. It is a great video regardless of your political affiliation and can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/DeceptionExpert/videos/577521325763058/  The challenge at the end of video urges us to look beyond ourselves for the information we need to move forward.  It was a great reminder of a quote I have seen credited to George Patton, 'If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking'.  As a leader I have responsibility to ensure our teachers are empowered to share their thoughts, and especially if those thoughts are different than mine.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Celebrate the Journey Not Just the End Result

This past week I have been sitting in the stands at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon watching the Olympic trials for track & field.  Those of you who know me personally, you surely have visions in your head of me being starstruck as you think of my love for track and field.  I love track and field not for the sport itself, but for the way it exemplifies some of the beliefs and values I hold in highest regard, ie. delayed gratification, growth, and the pursuit of excellence.

On the final night of the first session, I watched a star studded field in the women's 800.  (Click here for video).  To spare you the step by step commentary, the last 150 meters of that race have not left my mind since I witnessed the dramatic finish.  It ended in remarkable fashion and had the ingredients of tenacity, adversity, heartbreak (for most), and elation (for only a few).  Brenda Martinez and Alyssa Montano, the favorites, were caught up in a fall and did not make the US Olympic team causing internet message boards to light up.  As I read and reflected on the race and all the posts fans made, I brought it back to my other passion - Education.

These athletes have spent the last 4 years at least, training 8 hours a day or more, for this one race that lasts less than 2 minutes.  The hard work they put in and smaller races/performance along the way has inspired thousands of track fans.  However, I couldn't help but find myself wondering if those track athletes, who rarely get much press, know the respect and admiration that thousands of us have for them after the clapping and cheering has ended at the race.  This is where I started thinking about schools.

**Do our students know how we really feel about our their hard work and growth?  Do we celebrate this as much as we should?  Is our focus on smaller achievements and daily work, or do we only 'cheer', at the time of that one high stakes test?

We have limited opportunities to teach our youth the skills, mindset, and habits they will need to be competitive and successful in a global market.  One of the mindsets we must instill in our youth is to  'Embrace the Journey'.  Not everyday will be that Olympic trials performance, 99% of the time you must put in the work without celebration.  Our job as educators is to find ways to 'coach' our students and motivate them.  Our job as teachers is to be the fans in crowd cheering as our students grow and learn to reinforce to them that life and learning both are processes...long processes.  They both require much more hidden work than anyone will ever see.  
This year, I going to challenge myself to finding ways to celebrate the daily achievements of our students. I believe that this is an action that is necessary to encourage our youth to embrace the grind and delay gratification.  I also believe it is one of the foundations of the students developing a healthy self-esteem by learning to recognize their achievements in life will not always be 'Olympic Medal' caliber.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

School Funding & Property Tax Relief - Is ranking 49th out of 50 good enough?

This past month in the state legislature has been of particular interest to Nebraska Educators.  Two bills, LB 958 and LB 959, both attempt to solve the problem of property tax burdens to landowners.  LB 959, introduced by Senator Sullivan on behalf of Governor Ricketts, attempts to control the spending by public schools.  LB 958, introduced by Senator Gloor, attempts to address the issue of fast growing agricultural land valuations and the subsequent tax levy against those lands.

I had the pleasure of listening to the debate on LB 959 in the Education Committee.  I was amazed to hear stories each 'side' of the conversation presented.  When the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, the testimony of York superintendent Dr. Mike Lucas (@YorkDukePower) resonated the most.  He stated that we don't have a spending problem in schools, we have a school funding problem. Dr. Lucas later produced a blog outlining the fiscal reality of their district demonstrating how through fiscal responsibility, the current school funding formula, commonly known as TEEOSA penalizes schools.  You can read Mr. Lucas's blog post here: http://yorkdukepride.blogspot.com/2016/02/us-vs-them-is-no-win-situation.html

Over the past few days, I have been taking time to explore the historical financial reality of our district much the way Mr. Lucas did.  Here is what I discovered.  Nebraska ranks 49th out of 50 states in school funding.  The percentage of our state's budget dedicated to education has dropped from 32% in 1999 to 27% in 2015.  Below is a table showing the Cozad specific numbers since 2007.

School YearAmount of State Aid Received by CozadIncrease or decrease from previous yearGeneral Fund BudgetCost Per PupilStatewide Average cost per pupilTotal ValuationProperty Tax Levy per $100 of valuationIncrease or decrease of tax levy from previous year
07-08$3,347,213.66$9,421, 263$8,550.00$380,384,944$0.950138-4.69%
08-09$3,344,323.79-0.09%$9,817,703$8,964.84$390,802,189$0.9648901.55%
09-10$3,989,938.7319.30%$10,675,566$9,513.54$425,090,910$0.9791391.48%
10-11$3,905,643.98-2.11%$11,641,080$9,855.05$454,294,150$1.0000012.08%
11-12$3,015,254.95-22.80%$11,847,296$9,097.86$489,662,099$0.956431-4.36%
12-13$2,761,619.09-8.41%$11,847,296$10,396.27$10,709.67$512,425,447$0.9565620.01%
13-14$3,003,570.918.76%$12,123,236$10,839.09$11,040.44$590,978,746$0.956557-0.0005%
14-15$2,684,740.22-10.62%$12,665,492$11,304.00$11,364.62$713,201,677$0.956212-0.03%
Est.15-16$2,094,542.06-21.98%$13,283,784TBDTBD$796,440,220$0.9789782.38%
Est.16-17$941,819.00-55.03%TBDTBDTBDTBDTBDTBD
Total Decrease since 2007 = 71%Percent Increase since 2007 = 3%

So what can we draw from these numbers?  State aid to Cozad schools has decreased by 71%, yet our local tax levy has only gone up by 3% from 2007 to 2016.  Property valuations have increased by 87% over this same time period.  The drop in state aid has forced local school district to rely more heavily on the local tax base for funding.  In 2007 just 46% of our budget came from property taxes, but with the loss of 71% of our state aid to schools, that has forced local property taxes to make up 54% of our budget today.  Undoubtedly, there is a burden upon large land owners and it is imperative that as communities across the state, we come together and find a solution to the problem of how our schools are funded.

To bring this back to the legislative bills LB958 and LB959, they are not only bad for education, they do not address the central problem of school funding from the state.  I encourage all of you to continue this conversation for the sake of our students.  The next time you hear a politician say they are going to cut taxes, just remember, those cuts have to be made up elsewhere.  Our current Governor, Senator Gloor, and Senator Sullivan are simply passing the buck.  Instead of tackling the issue of how we fund schools, they are shifting our focus away from the real issue.

Are you still not convinced that the way education is funded in Nebraska is broken?  Then ponder this: If the Nebraska Cornhusker football team ranked 49th out of 50 teams, would you not wonder if that system is in need of change?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Big Changes Coming to Cozad High School for 2016-2017

Big changes mean new opportunities are on the horizon for Cozad students in the 2016-2017 school year.  After nearly a year of planning, our current homeroom will be undergoing a major makeover to focus on three initiatives.  These three focuses are:

  1.  Offering a more purposeful approach to helping our freshman grow the skills they need to be successful.  This will include character education, career education, study skills, digital citizenship, and academic planning.
  2. Providing a framework for academic interventions for students who are struggling academically.  This will include opportunities for remediating missed content skills and for the recovery of credit for those who have fallen behind in their progress to graduate.
  3. Increasing enrichment course offerings and real world learning opportunities.  These will range from increased college preparatory opportunities to exploratory classes that cover a wide variety of academic content areas.
In order to allow for these areas to be addressed through the this new "8th Period", the current homeroom, which is twenty four minutes long, will be expanded to forty eight minutes.  To accomplish this, our regular classes will be shortened from fifty one minutes to forty eight minutes each.  After discussions with teachers and administrators, all felt comfortable with the forty eight minute length of classes to still allow for an appropriate amount of instruction time.  

To ensure that the programming focuses are relevant to Cozad and our students needs, teachers have taken the lead in developing the direction and logistics of each of the focus.  Each of these focus areas has approximately six teachers who have chosen to help with that specific initiative.  This will allow teachers to have ownership of the programs they develop and students to benefit from the decisions of those who know them best.
  
Stay tuned this spring for more information.