November 17, 2015

Involving the community

Involving the community 

Some of you know that in September I started a new job at Vanderbilt Area School in Vanderbilt, Mich. Vanderbilt is a unique school because it has been in deficit since 2004, with one escape about five years ago. Moreover, the district is also a Priority School as the test results in the elementary have been near the bottom of the State for several years. The battle is real. The efforts are paramount. Moving forward is a challenge, but something that must be done. 

As part of the change in culture at the school, I have increased community communication and one of the ways I've been doing that is writing a weekly column for our local newspaper. It's been a fun endeavor and allows me to share thoughts about change, leadership, culture, curriculum, and assessment in a conversational manner. I've had good responses on the columns so far, so I thought I would share the latest. It's a combination of an attempt to involve the community BUT also an effort to upgrade our safety as the same time.

We have begun to upgrade our safety at the school. At the last Board Meeting, the Board voted to purchase safety upgrades from the Lockdown Company out of Fowlerville, Michigan. The District will be purchasing “the Boot,” a safety device that will allow all internal school doors to be locked down quickly based on an announcement; ballistic shields to be put on key exterior doors; and rapid response room number placards in order to easily identify and find classrooms. In addition, the District is investigating the possibility of building a new wall in the main lobby to ensure that all visitors visit the office before any other spot in the school. The cost of the tools from the Lockdown Company is $16,000, which the District can pay off over four years and also use Sinking Fund monies; however, we are hoping that the community is interested in helping us by “adopting a door.” We will be sharing more information on how to adopt a door soon. While we upgrade our safety, we are also working on bringing back the yellow and black.

How does Vanderbilt Area School truly bring the yellow and black back? We’ve placed a focus on “Every child. Every day.” and continue to be motivated to build an incredible school district for our community. But how do we do that? We have to involve the community, continue forth with academic initiatives, and create transitions between levels for our students.

Involving the community in reimagining of our school district is crucial. Working with our community agencies, local companies, and other entities to help our students and their families in the current economic climate will allow that to happen. Our free/reduced lunch counts are high — high enough that we are able to offer all students free breakfasts and lunches every day. We hope to create a great learning environment for our students and allow them to become successful.

Furthermore, we must continue forth with our academic initiatives already in place. Studying the work of November Learning, Dr. Michael Schmoker, and working with our our intermediate school district (the COPESD) to place rigorous academic programming in place, frequently monitor student achievement, and make appropriate changes in a timely, efficient fashion. The idea is not to make students mere numbers, but to put them in charge of their own learning. Student learning is more important that teachers teaching and the proverbial "did the student get it?" The reality is that we have to find a way for students to "get it." Developing professional learning communities (PLCs) will allow us to “… focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results,” according to former administrator and PLC designer Richard DuFour. DuFour identifies three “big ideas” for PLCs: Big Idea #1: Ensuring That Students Learn; Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration; Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results. Focusing on results will have a great effect on the organization.

When we bridge the gaps between educational levels, from lower elementary to upper elementary to middle school to high school to college/post–secondary learning, we will move the district in the right direction. We do a great job for our students who do graduate but we do no exit survey, no follow–up survey, and no outreach for students who leave and go to college. Those recent alumni can help us greatly. Furthermore, we need to highlight college and post–secondary options for kids beginning in the elementary school.

October 30, 2015

The Educational Star Wars

The Star Wars Saga in Education Continues

I have shared with you many ideas from educational researchers such as Michigan's own Larry Lezotte and Mike Schmoker as well as Robert Marzano and others. In many years in education, I have learned a great deal about "how" we get things done in a school. I've also learned the vast importance of making sure people understand "why" we do what we do. Also, recently, you have probably had the opportunity to check out the trailer for the new Star Wars movie coming out in a couple months. It will certainly be interesting to see what the new movie brings — and if there is an appearance by the great Jedi master, Yoda. Yoda was a great teacher himself and held true to some basic beliefs. Educators must truly believe in high expectations for all. That doesn't mean that you expect every single student to achieve at the highest expectation, but that each child should have that possibility in front of him/her. One of my professors told our class (years ago), "A 'C' is a most honorable grade." High expectations only make schools better.

The CIA 

Within the curriculum, instruction, and assessment "system" led by the principal, ensure that students have enough time to do their school work and that teachers are embracing that time and allowing what is called "time on task" by Lezotte and others who have worked on creating and studying effective schools and identified the "seven correlates." Ensure that the aforementioned culture is sound and that the school is a safe and orderly environment for all — students, teachers, families, etc. The factors that play into this include the school calendar, the daily schedule, and a focus on making sure that students are engaged in excellent instruction every day. One superintendent I know suggests that we build our systems around "response to instruction" moreso than "response to intervention." Furthermore, there should be regular and systemic checks for understanding of student learning.

Make a Difference Time

It's imperative that teachers remember that they went into education to make a difference in kids' lives. It's been my experience that we go through so many different processes in education, always finding the latest and greatest flavor of the week. We must create a focus on the classroom, the school — with the background of the district. Education is simple, but every time a principal goes to a conference and brings home a new "flavor," we take so many steps back. Education must be simplified and we know how to do it.

Face it, as Yoda may say, "There is no longer 'try,' we must do."

October 25, 2015

It's all perspective in the MLB at the deadline

Perspective. That's what the trade deadline provides. 

  • 53–51. Six games out of first place. (Toronto)
  • 53–50. Two games out of first place. (New York Mets) 
  • 50–52. Seven games out of first place. (Texas Rangers) 
  • 50–53. 11.5 games out of first place. (Detroit Tigers) 

On July 31, 2015, the Major League Baseball trade deadline, four teams had the preceding records. The records are close to each others, give or take two–and–a–half games. Three of the teams made the playoffs. One of the teams completely gave up. One of the teams — the one that did not make the playoffs — traded a key component to two of the teams allowing them to improve as the season wound down. The other team made a trade that everyone thought was "for next year" that allowed them to rally in 2015.
Cespedes turned up the volume when he shipped to the National League.
The Tigers would go 24–34 down the stretch and finish in last play way out of first place. The other teams' fortunes would improve and they would march to the playoffs. The New York Mets became so serious that they would rally all the way to the World Series. In the spring, no one was predicting the Mets to even make the playoffs. The player the Mets acquired from the Tigers was Yoenis Cespedes who would rally down the stretch and put up incredible statistics. He hit .287 with 17 HR and 44 RBI for the Mets in 57 games after .293 18 HR 61 RBI in 102 games for the Tigers. So, Cespedes posted almost identical stats in nearly half the games. He turned up the volume when he shipped to the National League. He was always thought of as a big game player.
Yoenis Cespedes is a solid hitter but an even better defender. His trade to the Mets spark–plugged their run to the National League pennant. Cespedes should get MVP votes simply for the effort he put forth after the trade. 
David Price, dealt to the Blue Jays at the deadline, by the Tigers won the same number of games with the Jays as the Tigers in 10 fewer starts. Price had a great season overall, winning 18 games. He was nearly dominating with Toronto, going 9–1 down the stretch. He went all Doyle Alexander on the American League — hopefully, there was a John Smoltz on the other end of the deal. Price continued his post–season slouch, though, for the Jays who were defeated by the Royals in the American League Championship Series.
David Price is one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. He dominated for the Blue Jays after the trade. 
Finally, the Phillies shipped Cole Hamels to the Rangers in what was viewed as a deal for 2016; however, the Rangers rallied and made the playoffs. Heck, they won the American League West after finishing last in 2014.

At the trade deadline, four teams had similar records. The Tigers decided to go small and go home, trading their most marketable and potential free agent stars. Two of the teams decided to go big. Three of the teams won divisions and made the playoffs. It's all about perspective and the Tigers' perspective was that they could not contend or make the playoffs so they dealt for prospects. The prospects all have good futures according to the Tigers' braintrust; strangely, though, the general manager who made the trades was fired the day after the deadline. Something strange happened as the season wound down for the Detroit Tigers. At least that is my perspective.

October 18, 2015

Why We Do What We Do

The opportunity to touch the future.

That's what most of the people I've taught with over the years have been all about. The focus of most educators during the past several years has been that "teaching is what we do." Somewhere along the line, though, we lost the "why." We have to bring back the why.

We went into education because we love working with kids and helping get them ready for their futures. Even when a child is in kindergarten, his teacher(s) are preparing him for his future. Our youngest students in school are only with us for 30 or so hours a week. Our teachers work hard to facilitate the learning of their students — teaching them to read, compute math problems, and so many other academic facets. It's so much more every day: counseling students, listening to students, helping them learn manners in the cafeteria, communicating with parents both bad and good information … When we say we want to "touch the future," we aren't kidding. Teachers truly do a great deal to help ready children for their futures. Every. Single Day.

Of course, it's not only the teachers. The bus drivers impact the kids. The cooks and cafeteria workers, the parapros, the secretaries, and even the principal influence student behavior. Children are our most precious resource and we must carefully influence and guide them every single day. In all reality, it's the community that works together to ensure that students are ready for their futures. It's just that teachers chose to impact students' lives because they want to touch the future. It's what they do.

October 17, 2015

Austin Jackson and the Acquisition

Put Me In Coach

The Royals and Cubs are heading to a showdown in the Fall Classic.  And Austin Jackson is at the center of everything during the post season. 

It's amazing that Fernando Rodney and  Jackson are both on the Cubs' roster. Rodney has struggled the past couple of seasons and Jackson just never put it all together with the Mariners after his trade* from the Tigers in the summer of 2014. 

Jackson was constantly an up–and–coming future star during his tenure with the Tigers. 

Wisely, the Royals chose not to take Joba Chamberlain to the playoffs with them — his meltdown in 2014 with the Tigers against the Orioles was both epic and repeated (two nights in a row). 

Two–thirds of the Mets outfield are former Tigers: Curtis Granderson (part of the epic trade that brought Jackson to the Tigers from the Yankees back in the 2009 off season) and Yoenis Cespedes who has been a catalyst in allowing the Mets to jump the Washington Nationals. 

Former Tigers rental and ace (as well as someone involved in another aforementioned *trade involving Jackson) David Price is on the Toronto Blue Jays roster. Devon Travis did not make the postseason roster after the pre–season trade between the Tigers and Jays. 

Jackson is like Kevin Bacon in these playoffs: six degrees. It will be interesting to see how the post season shakes out, but it looks like the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs are on a crash course. It's awesome to see the stadium in Kansas City filled up with all of the fans waving flags and making noise. I'm sure that Toronto and New York City will also be going crazy — but no park will be as awake as Wrigley Field in Chicago. 
The Spirit of Detroit decked in Tigers gear makes the City much more lively in October! 

September 27, 2015

Brad Ausmus Suddenly an Enigma

Shock Me! 

The Tigers shocked the world on Saturday afternoon by announcing that Brad Ausmus will return as field manager for the 2016 season. The national media lit up with the surprising news and the local Detroit media suddenly backtracked and said that the team is doing the right thing by Ausmus giving him a chance because the team was flawed from the beginning of the season and had many injuries throughout.

Ten seasons ago, the Tigers making the playoffs was a "game changer." 

One of those Moments

I was at Meijer on Cascade in Grand Rapids when the information arrived via Twitter. It's one of those moments that for some reason I think I will always remember. Ausmus has struggled this season with bullpen management, in game communication with players, and other small things. But, as Tom Peters is wont to suggest small things matter. A few weeks ago it was a foregone conclusion that Ausmus was a goner; some media suggested that Ron Gardenhire was just a formality away from joining the organization.

Maybe He Will Learn

Ausmus is a respected baseball man and caught for 18 seasons. He knows the game and knows it well. Apparently, General Manager Al Avila has determined that Ausmus deserves the chance to manage the team for at least one more season. There is no indication that he has received an extension so he will be a "lame duck" manager in 2016. He clearly runs a great Spring Training because the Tigers always come out of the gate as one of the game's toughest teams. Be forewarned, though, the Tigers 2016 April schedule is a doozie.

Ten Years

Next season will be the 10th Anniversary season of the arrival of Jim Leyland and the return of the Tigers organization. It was a great run without a doubt. The Tigers' faithful were hoping that a new manager would bring a new focus to town, but now Ausmus is returning for at lest one more season.

August 30, 2015

Can Doug Fister Return to the Motor City

Ozzie Guillen Should Be Hired To Manage 

Yoenis Cespedes likely not returning

It certainly doesn't get much worse than this for the four–time reigning Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. The team built to win "now" for the past several years has finally hit a brick wall. I remember watching the team in Spring Training — a time when you can't necessarily gain a rational perspective — and thinking this team would either be really good or really bad. I didn't expect a mediocre team or .500 record. I thought the Tigers would either win a lot of games or lose a lot of games. I didn't necessarily expect it to be the latter.

The Tigers signed Joe Nathan to be the bullpen savior following the 2013 season. He was 39 at the time but Dombrowski was convinced Nathan would be the answer. He was coming off a solid season with the Rangers BUT he was closing in on 40. 

The Ausmus Experiment Failed

I questioned Brad Ausmus' hire back in 2013 but felt that I owed it to former General Manager Dave Dombrowski that he knew what he was doing. Ausmus' teams came our of the gates both years beating the world up and then faded as the season went on. I believe that the Tigers haven't won more than three games in a row since the team started the season on a great roll, 6–0. The Tigers current manager has struggled with in–game decisions, bullpen management, and preparing hitters for situations. His coaching staff should all be replaced after this season; furthermore, Ausmus should be back working with the Padres.

Fixing the Club

My steps for fixing the Tigers are simple. I would like to believe the team could be retooled quickly but I'm not convinced that is the case. A new leader must come on board and immediately get this team fired up. Back when the Tigers hired Ausmus, I was a proponent of hiring recently–fired Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Now, I would still consider a former Central Division manager, but this time it's former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen is Venezuelan and the Tigers have a Latin clubhouse with many Venezuelans. His personality would jibe well in Detroit's clubhouse and he would command respect. Certainly, Guillen is controversial but he did last eight mostly successful seasons in the Windy City. His reign in Miami was short, but what manager has lasted more than a season there? Guillen masterfully accepted attacks from the media and public frequently to take any focus off of his players. Guillen is a motivator, a former star short stop, and commands respect in the clubhouse. He would be a great fit in Detroit.

Gose a Ghost

I would certainly consider an upgrade in centerfield, as well. Anthony Gose is an excelleant defensive centerfielder but he does not hit well enough to play every day. Rajai Davis is a solid ballplayer and good corner outfielder but he is not an answer in the middle of the outfield. I would like to see Davis stay on the team as a corner outfielder and reserve but I would try to package Gose in a deal for someone for the bullpen.

Additionally, I don't think Steven Moya is the answer in left field but it sounds more and more like the Tigers will shy away from trying to re–sign Yoenis Cespedes as a free agent. He will probably command $20 million a year and the Tigers new GM Al Avila will probably spend that $20 million on free agent pitcher Johnny Cueto.

Yes, Cueto is more affordable (yikes — at $20 million a season affordable!) than the other elite starter available David Price. Price never really liked Detroit and never seemed to fit in so for him to return is unlikely, but at the $30–$35 million per season I expect him to get he is "priced" out of the Motor City. Trading him was the right thing to do. Cueto is more likely to join the Tigers than Price.

Another starter I would consider is Doug Fister, who may be willing to sign a one–year deal to rebuild his value. Fister is the type of pitcher who didn't fit in to Dave Dombrowski's stable as he didn't throw the ball nearly 100 MPH. He might be the perfect type of pitcher to join the retooled Tigers rotation next season. I think the Daniel Norris is going to be solid. And I hope that Anibal Sanchez comes back as a solid starter, but even when the Tigers acquired him, I was concerned about his history of injuries.

Do the Tigers Have a Bullpen Problem

The Tigers have to fix the bullpen. They may want to completely start over. As you saw yesterday, they finally wore out Alex Wilson's arm — it's amazing that he lasted this long. That's another of Ausmus' problems — overuse. I can't say who I would try to acquire, but it might be through a trade or free agent signing. The bullpen has to start over, though.

The Tigers have solid players in Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, JD Martinez, and James McCann. It is still debatable whether Nick Castellanos will develop (he has looked better) or whether Moya or Gose can develop into serviceable players. I have my doubts on the complete bullpen but I already mentioned that. I do think the starting pitching can be saved and decent next year.

The Tigers may or may not improve next season. It's clear that work needs to be done. Al Avila did not inherit a great situation like Dombrowski did in the fall of 2001 when he arrived. This team is coming off its it's best run ever but is suffering through an incredibly bad season. Yet, there were signs in Spring Training that this team might struggle. The 2015 season is actually more of a disappointment to Tigers fans than the 2003 team.

Leadership must begin at the top. And the winds of change are not far away.