Week of: June 25, 2012
It’s 100 degrees outside, and the cicadas are buzzing in the trees. Although summer officially began on June 21, it hardly matters to Leander ISD’s 33,000 students and 4,100 staff members who would most certainly say that summer began the minute the school year concluded four weeks ago. Regardless of how you count the start of the season, it is clear that we are in the midst of vacation time.
LISD families have just about nine weeks left before the first day of school, Monday, August 27. Much can be made with the time left. If you are a parent of a child enrolled in public school, I encourage you to take advantage of the summer break and use this time for family vacations instead of taking them during the school year.
By choosing not to take your child out of school for vacations during the school year, you give your child the opportunity to be present for every educational day and take ownership of his or her learning. It allows students to maximize instructional time, a key factor to student learning, and helps students feel connected to their classmates, teachers and other school personnel. Overall, regular and punctual attendance boosts academic achievement, improves the quality of a student’s educational experience and promotes good habits which support success now and later in life. We know that when the stakes are higher and students are in college or the workforce, good attendance is a critical factor to success.
You might be asking yourself, what’s the big deal about missing a couple of days of school to take my kids on vacation? Well, for starters, it sends a message that education isn’t a high priority. Parents have a tremendous influence on their child’s attitude toward school, and it is critical that students understand the value of their education and how it builds bridges to future opportunities.
When students miss school, they get behind. Even on the first day of school, teachers will present meaningful material that your child will need to hear. If they do class work while they are out, students are denied the value of lessons provided by professional educators in engaging learning environments. Other students are also impacted when students miss school because teachers have to spend extra time getting students caught up.
Attendance is a growing concern for school districts because research shows there is a strong link between attendance and graduation rates. LISD’s own dropout prevention taskforce found that students who miss 10 or more unexcused days per year are 15.5 times more likely to drop out of high school before graduation. Similarly, the E3 Alliance (Education Equals Economics), an organization focused on developing a comprehensive view of the area’s educational landscape to help Central Texas students achieve higher standards, recently shared some concerning statistics. They found that freshmen who are held back in the ninth grade miss four times as many days as students who are promoted to the 10th grade and, of those students, only 17 percent pass the math TAKS test. These same students are 10 times more likely to drop out of school.
And in these budget-conscious times, it is important to remember that student absences have a negative impact on LISD financially. Under current school finance law, we receive funding based on our weighted average daily attendance. Thus LISD loses approximately $38 a day for every student who is absent. Multiply this by hundreds of students every day, and it could mean the difference between hiring staff, buying new equipment or funding a new program. Of course, if your child is sick, he or she should stay home until he or she is well. Coming to school sick potentially puts other students and staff at risk of becoming ill.
I encourage you to make the most of the remaining days of the summer break for your family trips. Consider, too, that LISD has holidays in November, December, February and March and several three-day weekends peppered throughout the calendar (to view the LISD calendar, visit www.leanderisd.org). Just be sure that when the school bell rings, your child is on time, present and ready to learn. LISD teachers and staff are eagerly preparing for the 2012-2013 school year and will be excited to greet your student on Monday, August 27.
Have a great week!
Week of: June 18, 2012
In an effort to keep our community better informed,
I occasionally share this space with members of our Board of Trustees.
This week, Board President Ms. Pamela Waggoner would like to share some thoughts with you.
Whew! Another graduation season is over and another opportunity for Leander ISD to reflect on accomplishments, address challenges and plan for the future.
It is easy to see the accomplishments. It is on the faces of our more than 1,800 graduates who proudly walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. We had a special treat this year graduating two new schools with their first senior class. Rouse High School and Vandegrift High School graduated their alpha classes and there was an extra excitement in the air from the excited staff, students and parents. The students were chanting backstage. The parents and guests arrived more than an hour early to get the best seats, and the principals and staff were anxiously planning every detail. Their graduation ceremonies came off without a hitch. The Vista Ridge High School valedictorian delivered his speech with passion and from memory. It was truly memorable. Leander High School choir was, again, exceptional. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was truly beautiful to hear. Cedar Park High School spoke of their pride with so many teams’ winning district or state accolades. Yes, all of the schools celebrated their successes, and we are proud of ALL of them.
For the Board of Trustees and the administration, we are now focused on the 2012-2013 school year and beyond. We have real budget issues to address, and we must cut approximately $5 million from our maintenance and operations budget. Our population is growing, while at a slower pace than in 2008, and we must have seats for all of our students. Many of our elementary schools will become crowded in the next one to three years, and we must make decisions now on how to handle the growth. We know there is no new money from the legislature to help build schools, and we are already adjusting the way we teach. Many teachers
on several campuses are already “sharing” rooms; they take time to pack their materials and put them aside for the next class coming in. This is just one of the many ways we use existing space to accommodate more students. We are looking at efficiency in every aspect of public school life. The problem will occur when all cuts to the budget, sharing of space, or purchasing more portables are maxed out, and even deeper sacrifices to education become much more apparent. We are working hard to avoid drastic changes such as these. This is when children suffer, and we are less able to prepare them as well for college, the workforce or to be productive citizens.
In planning for the future of LISD, we strive to listen to our constituents and do what is right by all students. We want to remain a desirable school district in which to live and be a source of pride for our students and their families. Make no mistake: children flourish when given the tools and the opportunity to succeed. We want all of our children to succeed, and it will take all of us to make this happen. We are excited about our future, even with the challenges, and look forward to working with our community to find solutions and to provide every child with the tools he or she need to succeed. Thank you for all the support you have given, and continue to give, to the children of LISD.
Week of: June 11, 2012
Leander ISD schools may be almost empty, but principals and administrators still have many important responsibilities on their shoulders to prepare for the coming school year. Although it is a different kind of busy from what it was just weeks ago, we will spend the next couple of months exploring how we can improve to maximize student learning.
We are a data-driven district, a fact that is apparent in our Learning Model and throughout our system, as we use data to support student learning. Our focused areas of improvement — to close the achievement gap between socio-economically disadvantaged students and all students; to increase access to college- and career-readiness opportunities; to foster student ownership of learning; and to provide for students’ physical, mental and emotional well-being — are the keys to ensuring success for every child. We know how we are progressing in these areas based on data we collect throughout the year. But it is hard to understand how we use data on the larger scale to improve our district and ultimately student learning.
We gather four types of data based on performance, people, processes and perceptions. Performance-based data are local and state assessment scores, including TAKS, STAAR, ReadiStep, PSAT, SAT, ACT, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exam scores, and student grades. Our people data is based on demographics and helps ensure that we are meeting the educational needs of all our student populations. Process data addresses our district and campus action plans and reflects to what degree LISD’s Seven Student Learning Behaviors are happening in classrooms. Perception data is based on input from student, teacher and parent surveys. All of these resources give us a good measure of student progress.
We also look at data from sources outside of the classroom setting. The most recent example of this type of data was collected at the district’s anti-bullying mini-conference on May 10. At that event, we collected feedback from parents, community members and staff regarding
the district’s anti-bullying processes and will incorporate it into our improvement plans in the weeks to come.
A lot of work will go into using the data we’ve gathered to improve student learning. Data points are first reviewed during the summer by principals during “data day,” which launches yearlong conversations on how we can improve. Data day is a collaborative effort to bring principals together to reflect on the bigger picture of what worked last year and to look forward to what can be improved next year. By using data to reflect on our current goals and action plans, we also begin the process of looking ahead to establish our goals for next year. And so data is used to guide our campus and district improvement plans, which include our goals and the processes that will help us to meet these goals.
Preliminary efforts to address data trends will take place during the summer to ensure these campus and district improvement plans don’t just remain on a page. Principals will take data back to their leadership teams to implement improvements at the campus and classroom levels. Additionally, data will be addressed during retreats and workshops planned for June, July and September.
For teachers and staff, professional development opportunities are being planned to further help campuses address the trends found in the data. And the conversation will continue throughout the school year as more workshops and retreats are scheduled for October, January and April. Our annual continuous improvement conference in February will allow teachers to gain additional training. When the new school year begins principals, team leaders and others will regularly revisit and review data to see how we are progressing.
Through this extensive and ongoing process, we will use data to improve an individual student’s educational experience in LISD. With each gain we make, we raise the bar higher.
And so although our schools are much quieter now than they were just a couple of weeks ago, we are working very hard to ensure that we are focusing on student learning and improving every step of the way. You can find our district improvement process on the LISD website by visiting www.leanderisd.org, selecting the About LISD tab, and then clicking the Accountability and Assessment link.
Have a great day!
Week of: June 4, 2012
Graduation was held in Leander ISD last weekend, marking the first time the district has had five graduating classes. Together with families and friends, we packed the Cedar Park Center amid a sea of cards, flowers, balloons, smiles, hugs and tears, and said congratulations and best of luck to the Class of 2012.
We applaud our graduates for 13 years filled with reaching for high academic standards, giving their all in competitions and challenges, modeling the 10 Ethical Principles, and working together to build solid and supportive learning communities. They have set the bar high for our underclassmen and have contributed significantly to our district and campus cultures. They are leaving LISD with an understanding of how life-long learning, good character and stewardship are critical traits for tomorrow’s leaders. In short, we couldn’t be more proud of the Class of 2012.
And so much still lies before our newly-minted graduates. We send best wishes with them as they embark from our classrooms. For many, their most-immediate destinations include top-tier public and private universities, community colleges, technical colleges, trade schools and branches of the armed services. More opportunities will come their ways that we can’t even begin to imagine. Because LISD strives to equip all students with college- and career-readiness skills, we confidently send these graduates off into the world prepared for wherever their lives take them. I am certain we have only just begun to witness the amazing contributions our students will make in the years to come.
Without a doubt, the foundation for the Class of 2012’s success begins with parents and families who have molded our graduates into the men and women they are today. Their love and support will continue to be a source of strength and resolve for our graduates.
In a similar fashion, LISD seniors have received a tremendous amount of support from teachers and staff who come to work each day committed to helping them learn. Our graduates
have been shaped by remarkable individuals who chose to make LISD their professional home.
So, just as we send our seniors off, it is appropriate that we also say congratulations and good luck to staff members who are beginning another chapter in their lives and retiring this year.
Our 2011-2012 retirees are (their time spent with LISD is also noted): Bill Clay (three years), Sharon Lee (four years), Wanda Toungate (four years), Kathy Loter (four years), Kathy Williamson (four years), Gay Ellis (five years), Camille Street (five years), Cheryle Green (six years), Susan McWilliams (six years), Linda Durham (seven years), Elizabeth Ward (eight years), Jill Gunn (eight years), Mary O’Brien (eight years), Gary Zeplin (eight years), Jimmy Harper (nine years), Creston Glover (nine years), Gaylynn Cheatham (nine years), Sammie Walters (10 years), Janet Adkinson (10 years), Terry King (10 years), Jude Burke (11 years), Jackie Ross (12 years), Edward Pagliai (12 years), Stephanie McBride (12 years), Billie Joe Galbraith (12 years), Robert Ross (13 years), Beth Glassman (13 years), Charlie Broun (14 years), Barbara McLeod (14 years), Carolyn Hopp (14 years), Jan Downs (15 years), Patty Craig (16 years), Betsy Durrett (16 years), Terry France (16 years), Karla Esters (19 years), Jeanette Montalvo (20 years), Mary Paul (21 years), Terry Nabi (22 years), Joelyn Wooldridge (23 years), Jo Blome (25 years), Dolores Payton (25 years), Victoria Wakely (25 years), Sheila Caprio (26 years), Lana Collier (26 years), Dee Bowers-Vance (26 years), Kathy Bailey (27 years), Kathy Cook (27 years), Kathy Shrader (29 years), Cindy Wheeler (31 years) and Sue Hudson (37 years). Speaking for the countless students for whom these educators have made a difference, we hope that they have an enjoyable, well-deserved retirement.
Great teachers and staff continually raise LISD’s reputation for providing a high-quality education to all students, a commitment which continues to draw more families to our district. With the addition of the senior classes at Rouse and Vandegrift high schools, for the first time in our history, five senior classes walked across the stage this year, another significant milestone for our growing district. Yet as we grow, we are holding true to our focus on student learning and will see more of our students reaching and exceeding goals they set for themselves, a true indication of our entire district’s commitment to life-long learning.
This week I am signing off with a simple message. No matter if you are a graduate or a retiree, your time in LISD has just been a starting place on your journey of learning. Never stop learning, for it is only through learning that you can continue meet the challenges of the future.
To both our graduates and our retirees — congratulations and the best of luck!