‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

State of Our Schools: Lee students rising to the challenges faced today

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Although students today are faced with rigorous expectations to prepare them for a competitive workforce, School District Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham told those in attendance at the State of Our Schools – Partners in Education breakfast Friday morning that students are rising to the challenge with great success.

With this year’s State of Our Schools theme of “Star Wars” The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower dressed as Yoda and Graham dressed as Princess Leia.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

“The summation of what I know . . . Star Wars goes like this – there are good guys and one really bad guy dressed in black. So, I had to ask myself how in the world do I relate all that to education,” she said. “Yoda has very few words to say. And when he says them, they are received as profound and lasting.”

Graham’s speech was broken down into seven lessons shared through Yoda.

Her first lesson, “you must unlearn what you have learned,” touched upon the difficult tasks with which educators are faced. Graham said most people have gone to school and many want to serve as local experts in running a school.

“Though it is comfortable for us to relate current life to our own experiences, it would be really helpful in the case of public education for individuals to unlearn or at least suspend personal experiences and see education for what it is today,” she said. “Heavily legislative, often politicized and insufficiently funded.”

Public education has changed in terms of requirements for high school graduation. Graham said years ago students completed their high school math requirements after finishing algebra one.

“You all know those same folks never had to pass a standardized test or end of course exam in math, history or science,” she said. “It’s likely in most cases those same people are reaping the benefits of a well-lived professional life. But today, none of those same people would be able to earn a high school diploma based on the current requirements facing our freshman class, the class of 2018.”

This year’s senior class had to earn at least a half credit of online courses to receive a high school diploma.

When adding rigorous, challenging and prescriptive academic expectations to life experiences of students that are already faced without a stable family unit, homelessness, poverty, English as a second language, neighborhood violence, mental illness and physical or emotional abuse the chance to become a kid may never come, she said.

Through all of those difficulties, Graham said there is a positive note. In 2014, Lee County achieved the highest reading learning gains in its history; performed above the state average in points earned for the state grading system; improved the district grade and this year’s high school graduates earned a combined $50 million in scholarships.

Her second lesson was titled “difficult to see, always in motion is the future, which focused on predicting what students might need to be prepared beyond their kindergarten through 12th grade education.

“As today’s educators, we are charged with preparing our students for the workforce. A workforce full of jobs yet to be defined,” Graham said. “This is the new way of work . . . preparing the future for the unknown. This is why we must focus on teaching our students how to think and problem solve. To look at math and science and literature from angles and many lenses.”

The future for the students is why the district focuses on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – as well as STEAM, because Lee County also includes the arts in its schools. Comprehensive high schools, which allow students to earn diplomas and industry certifications, are also offered to prepare students for the workforce.

Graham said the district also invests in such student leadership programs as JROTC, where Lee County ranks as the second largest in the country.

Another lesson, “truly wonderful the mind of a child” spoke to the district’s responsibility of acknowledging the minds they reach through relationships and programs to nurture students.

“You think Yoda stops teaching just because a student does not want to hear – a teacher Yoda Is” shared information about the teachers of Lee County.

Graham said next year the school district will employ just under 6,000 teachers, 2,000 of whom have a master’s degree or higher. She said it is no easy task to hire and retain the best talent because the School District of Lee County is the biggest employer from Tampa to Miami.

“We are back to a growth pattern of an additional 1,500 to 2,000 students a year,” Graham said. “We are projected to be in that mode for the next 10 years.”

The lesson also shared information about the newest career opportunities for teachers. A teacher leader spends part of their day teaching and the other half coaching other teachers, which Graham said has been successful.

Grants through the National Education Association have also helped in closing the learning gap in Lee County. What started as assistance for 10 schools, will have reached 30 schools in 2016 with the grant.

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good as you will not,” highlighted the capital budget funds decrease. Graham said the combination of lower property taxes, reduced impact fees and reduced funding from the state in the past five years resulted in $656 million loss to the district’s capital budget.

“As a district and a community, we can no longer pretend the losses have no impact as we face a growing number of students,” she said. “These are our schools, yours and mine. Our schools need to be maintained while new schools will ultimately have to be built to house the children that we know are coming.”

Another lesson titled “Try no. Do or do not. There is no try,” shared the importance of partnerships and their involvement.

“All in means more than just writing a check . . . though we are grateful for your financial support. In this partnership all in is about being an advocate of our schools, correcting misperceptions when you hear them or sharing the positives when others may want to be negative,” Graham said. “All in means we make promises to one another and we keep them.”

Some of those promises include a balance budget without using reserved funds; measurable three year strategic plan; nationally credited school district ; increase learning gains among all groups of students; at least one school counselor at every school; 325 fewer required tests; forward movement with technology including the start of one-on-one devices for students; C to a B district and on the way to becoming an A district, as well as continuing to work with the community to keep its vision.

She closed her speech by asking the audience to “pass on always what you have learned.”

“The more who know more the better and stronger the partnership becomes among us,” Graham said. “Our doors are open to you as we move forward and I encourage you to visit our schools. I will personally take you.

‘I know exactly what I want to do’

I was invited to attend this three-day event, which I unfortunately will not be able to make because it is held in Chandler, Arizona. It sounds like a great way to bring the community together while highlighting science and technology.

Three-day festival highlights science and technology

Published Jan. 18, 2014 in SanTan Sun News

A three-day festival in February will provide a glimpse into the science and technology that makes Chandler tick.

The Chandler Science Spectacular, Thu., Feb. 20, through Sat., Feb. 22, showcases the businesses, artists, students and innovators in the community as part of the statewide Arizona SciTech Festival.

The Chandler event is comprised of three free happenings.

The Chandler Tech Crawl is 5:30 p.m. Thu., Feb. 20, and features some of the biggest names in science opening their doors to families.

Technology meets the arts during A Night of Art and Science from 6 to 10 p.m. Fri., Feb. 21, as Downtown Chandler transforms its monthly Third Friday Art Walk into a creative look at the science behind the food and drink, beauty, art and invention.

Chandler’s Science Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat., Feb. 22, has interactive demonstrations by Chandler’s technology companies along with the next generation of science.

“Everything is free,” says Councilman Rick Heumann. “It’s a great event for families. It’s really to showcase what Chandler is all about and the companies that we have.”

Heumann founded the Chandler Education Coalition three years ago to bring the school district, city nonprofits and business community together to benefit students in Chandler.

“It is really designed because everyone has limited funds,” he says.

Heumann and his coalition are behind the localization of the Arizona SciTech Festival.

“More and more cities are stepping up and doing a lot more things,” Heumann says.

The Chandler Science Spectacular, he says, has been successful because of the individuals working behind the scenes.

“Chris Mackay and her team should get some major kudos,” Heumann explains.

City of Chandler Economic Development Director Christine Mackay boasts about the 3-year-old Chandler Tech Crawl on Feb. 20.

“Three of the Chandler companies open their doors and provide tours and scientific demonstrations to see the neat, exciting technology that is happening in Chandler,” she says.

Those businesses include Chandler’s Innovations Incubator, 145 S. 79th St.; Intel, 5000 W. Chandler Blvd., Building CH6; and Infusionsoft, 1260 S. Spectrum Blvd. Mackay is one of the tour guides at Intel.

“The same people come back every year,” she says. “They seem to be really engaged and excited to see what is going on in their community.”

A Night of Art and Science on Feb. 21 takes place at the historic square in downtown Chandler.

“It’s a tremendous draw for the community,” Mackay says. “It’s our best attended third Friday art walk every year.”

Downtown Chandler Community Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Lindley says her organization shows the science and technology behind people’s creative arts.

“We encourage our artists to show a little more about how their craft is created,” Lindley explains.

Typically 60 to 80 artists showcase their art and about half of them offer demonstrations. Last year there was a glass blowing demonstration and SanTan Brewing Co. showcased how to make beer.

The final event, Chandler’s Science Saturday, is Feb. 22.

Air Products demonstrated how to make a frozen fl ower for attendees during last year’s Chandler Science Spectacular, a three-day event that focuses on technology and science. Submitted photo

Air Products demonstrated
how to make a frozen flower for attendees during last year’s Chandler Science Spectacular, a three-day event that focuses on
            technology and science.             Submitted photo

“It’s a good old-fashioned science fair,” Mackay says.Sixty Chandler companies participate in the fair, which closes down Commonwealth Avenue, so the businesses can set up hands-on activities for the attendees. Individuals have the opportunity to move from booth to booth along the street while engaging in science and engineering activities.

“It’s so much fun,” she says.

Arizona State University, University of Arizona and TechShop at the Chandler Innovation Center will have open houses during the event. The Hamilton International Science and Education Festival will also have student projects on display at Hamilton High School.

Mackay remembers watching three little faces last year as they watched an orbital science group, which was the highlight of the event for her.

“You saw the look come over the three little faces: ‘I know exactly what I want to do,’” she recalls. “That moment, they knew exactly where they were going in life.”

The three-day festival, Mackay says, is a way to make sure Chandler residents understand the science behind the community.

“Chandler is strongly and deeply rooted in technology companies,” Mackay says. “Chandler is committed to technology and innovation and that is what we want to celebrate.”

For more information about the Chandler Science Spectacular, visit chandleraz.gov/science.

‘One purpose, One mission, One passion’

Here is a feel good story that I wrote for the Herald & Tribune about teachers in the Washington County Department of Education receiving grants totalling $20,000. A special ceremony was held for them last week, which gave them all an opportunity to share how they will utilize the grant money in their classroom to further the education of their students.  

Innovative teachers receive Quest awards

Published Jan. 21, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

Seven grants totalling $20,000 were given to teachers of the Washington County Department of Education last week during a special ceremony sponsored by the Quest Foundation.

Quest Foundation President James Harlan told the recipients that it was a privilege to be there on behalf of the foundation.

“We have just one purpose, one mission, one passion, that is to enhance education and learning in Washington County schools,” Harlan said. “We do that at the classroom level.”

The Quest Foundation has made grants to 21 classrooms in 10 schools over the last three years for more than $64,000. Last Wednesday, it added another $20,000 to the foundation’s grant total.

“The last three years have been a journey for Quest,” Harlan said. “Over $84,000 has been put back in our schools to start that lifetime of learning.”

He went on to say that it is rewarding to put that amount of money back in classrooms.

“That’s the kind of good news that makes this community, this city, a place where it is fun to live,” Harlan said. “We live in a very generous area. We care about other people and care about children.”

The foundation provides grant money for programs and materials that are otherwise unavailable to Washington County teachers. Harlan said the board looks for innovative ideas to enhance preschool to 12th-grade curriculum with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harlan said for most educators at the ceremony, being a teacher was all they ever wanted to do.

“Education is the thing that fundamentally differentiates the United States from the rest of the world,” he said. “We have, in the United States, a lot of things against us in terms of being competitive in the world. One thing that levels the playing field is education. That starts right here in Washington County.”

Harlan recalled a fond memory of when he was in third grade and a teacher who sparked his interest and made learning fun.

“Learning to read is fundamental to what these teachers are communicating to their students and what becomes a lifetime of learning,” he said.

Grant recipients included: Robert St. John and David Yates from David Crockett High School who received $1,774 for their project “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

The grant money will help the teachers purchase an aerial photography system that will be integrated between the media and CAD department, as well as the biology department.

Cindy McAvoy, a 6th- grade math teacher at Lamar School, received $1,709 for her project “Parents as Learning Partners – Partnerships Today that Create Success Tomorrow.”

McAvoy said many parents have shared their concern about wanting to help their children with their math, but the parents do not know how. Thanks to the grant, she will now be able to offer a workshop that provides ideas and ways for parents to support their children.

Rachel Horn and Mike Taylor of Daniel Boone High School received $3,600 for their project “Improving Student Learning with 21st Century Data-Collection Technology.” The teachers teach AP physics and physical science.

Horn said the grant will allow them to buy lab equipment for students to craft data in real time during their experiments in physics.

Twana McKinney and the David Crockett High School science department received $4,727 for the project “Technology and Common Core.”

McKinney said they will also receive equipment that will provide real-time data for students to use as evidence for reference in writing skills.

Penny Elliot Lowe, a 5th-grade math teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $4,500 for her project “Addressing the Learning Gap in Mathematics using iPads.”

She said she did not have an iPad until last year and was amazed with what it could do. Lowe said she saw many opportunities for using the iPad in the classroom.

“(I can) use the iPads as another way to have a deep engagement with what we are doing in mathematics,” she said, adding that students can develop their own math presentations.

Kristie Payne, a third- grade teacher at Fall Branch Elementary, received $1,689 for her project “I want to be a Mathematician.”

She said the grant will fund iPads for her students, which will allow them the opportunity to develop key mathematical concepts through the use of technology. Payne said there are many apps that help students take concrete mathematical applications and apply them abstractly.

Jackie Mumpower, a 3rd- grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $2,000 for her project “Transforming 21st Century Education through Laptops.”

She said her students will use the laptops to create PowerPoint presentations. Harlan said the amount of grants they are not able to fully fund is the reason the foundation continues to raise money.