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'It's All About the Journey'
August 23, 2010
Superintendent Dr. Cathy's Burden's 2010 State of the Union Speech, delivered to returning staff on Wednesday, August 18. For additional pictures, see Student Life here.
Welcome. It’s very good to see you all here anticipating a great new school year. The students who arrive on Friday are lucky to have you working on their behalf, and I hope that you are truly committed to do “whatever it takes” to make this the best year possible for each and every one of them. 2010-11 is going to be a challenging year because it’s an historic time economically in our state and nation.
A challenging year
In my experience, I’ve never seen more uncertainty about school funding. So much of our stability is dependent on state money, so until our economy rebounds or there is a greater state commitment to education – which luckily could happen with the passage of State Question 744 in November – Union’s flexibility to expand programs and have manageable class sizes is in jeopardy. Thanks to the federal government shoring up Oklahoma’s deficit, about 150 of you have jobs.
Also, thankfully, just last week the federal government allocated some additional funds that will help us through 2012. But even so, we have not averted significant cuts in our district budget. This summer 92 positions were cut. We have lost 8.8 percent of our administrative staff, 5.4 percent of our teaching staff, and 4 percent of our support staff. In almost all cases, we were able to cut open positions so no one lost his job. And we tried to spare classroom teachers as much as possible so class sizes were protected. However, we can’t lose 92 people without impact. So this year will be a challenge.
We will have higher class sizes, less support from the media center, gifted, and administrators; we will have fewer custodians and technology help and there will be less travel and overtime. Except for transportation, all site and department budgets have been cut by 10%. For the first time in my 16 years at Union, the Board of Education is unable to reward returning employees with a stipend, so only those teachers who legally have to receive additional salary to meet the state’s minimum salary schedule will be getting a raise. Obviously, it will be a tight year.
But here is the good news, and I hope you take comfort in this – there is no better place to be during these uncertain times than at Union Public Schools. Thanks to CFO Debbie Jacoby’s leadership and the involvement of all of our administrative team, we are in the best situation financially that we can be. Your jobs are secure. Your benefits – including no increase in insurance premiums, the employee clinic and wellness center, tuition reimbursement, and the others – are all whole and the best in the state. And our commitment to continue our focus on excellence for our students and our employees remains strong. Some of you can remember back to the financial situation of 2003 when we could only afford a stipend to cover rising insurance rates, but when solvency returned the next year, our Board made up those stipend bonuses for all faculty and staff. Union’s history speaks for itself and the commitment of our leadership has not wavered.
I also feel fortunate – as we chart these uncertain waters – to be in the same boat with you. There is not a better group of caring, dedicated and knowledgeable professionals, and I know that we will survive these times by keeping our focus on the students and their welfare.
They need us to bring our best game. Many of their families are suffering stress – our free and reduced numbers grew last year to 47 percent, and 14 percent of our students came to us with limited English proficiency. For all of our students, school needs to be the safest, most uplifting, and most positively stimulating place in their lives – just the way you would want it for your own children or grandchildren. That is why your personal connections with students are so critical. They need you as role models. Engaging them in learning that develops all of their skills and talents, helping them see a successful future for themselves, and turning every experience into one that develops confidence – that’s what we are all about. You have never been needed more. Your job has never been more important.
Ensuring student success will drive all district goals this year.
Ensuring student success will drive all district goals this year. First, everything we do should lead to 100 percent of our students graduating from high school and leaving us college- and/or career-ready. No one should fall between the cracks. You and I must take responsibility for each and every student to stay in school and master a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for college. We are charting a transformational course for secondary students with the development of the Union Collegiate Academy which will start construction this year and be fully operational by 2012.
But there is no reason to wait for a building to change our mind set. Already 200 of our High School students are enrolled in four college courses as a part of their regular school day in a partnership with Tulsa Community College and will simultaneously earn both HS and college credit. In a pilot program that we have submitted to the State Regents for Higher Education that would begin next year, we anticipate that almost all Union students can graduate with 27 hours of college credit earned between their sophomore to senior years, basically free of charge, and never leave our campus.
So what can you do to get ready for this amazing change? Well, first, I hope that you BELIEVE in it. We have great kids and with the proper motivation, support, and opportunities, they should all be able to experience the benefits that come from an educated citizenry. Research says that students who go to college will make over $1 million dollars more in their lifetimes than those that don’t. They will be healthier, more mentally and emotionally stable, and contribute more to society. Many of our students on IEPs can continue their education, and they have vocational training support. For those students who want to pursue a career right after high school, we need to get them involved in Tulsa Tech during high school so they are trained to maximize their choices.
College can be a reality
Union students at all age levels need to comprehend that college can be a reality for them. Free tuition is available at TCC or through Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships for all legal residents. From early childhood on, every teacher needs to talk about high school graduation as a stepping stone to college and build the expectation that every graduate will continue their education with college or career training. If our kids don’t hear about college at home, they need to hear about it from you. Parents need early information about college planning and students need to make early choices that lead them in the right direction. So we all need to build enthusiasm for college and make sure that 100% of our students get there ready to be successful.
Another exciting initiative for this year is to expand opportunities for learning through technology. Dr. Kirt Hartzler, in his new role as Associate Superintendent, is working to give our students and teachers more virtual learning opportunities. A learning management system, Blackboard, will be rolled out this year for professional development, and virtual courses for students will be available from E2020 and the Florida Virtual system. Our digital natives will love new student e-mail accounts, more WiFi access, and classroom use of Smart Boards and Skype as taught this summer in our technology conference.
Another big highlight for this year is all about supporting teachers in your quest to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your students and share effective instructional practices with each other. The district is taking a big plunge – one that may not be well-accepted initially by parents – to adjust school hours and start late on Friday so all teachers have time for weekly collaboration. This is very exciting, and I am grateful to those faculties who have already experimented with embedded collaboration enough to convince us that this is the best kind of professional development and worthy even if it inconveniences parents at first. Now all teachers will have a chance for professional conversations, to learn from each other, and to focus on intentional strategies that ensure each student masters the core objectives of each course. You will be each other’s best teachers. You will have a professional support group to raise the level of instructional practice. You will be responsible for working as a team to accomplish the learning goals for all students. I look forward to seeing the impact of embedded collaboration in student test scores and teacher retention. We all have a great deal at stake to make this valuable time productive and beneficial to students, so I encourage you to take it seriously and make the most of your time with your colleagues.
Speaking of test scores, let’s do a quick overview of how we are doing. We certainly have some things to celebrate but unfortunately, we also have areas that are unacceptable and need attention. The good news is that ACT scores for the 703 Union graduates who took the ACT last year are higher than the previous year in all areas – English, Math, Reading, and Science. Our average composite score increased to 22 – 1.3 points higher than the state average of 20.7. Our college-going graduates are doing well.
Also the state End-of-Instruction (EOI) tests indicate that a higher percentage of our regular students are scoring at satisfactory or advanced in Biology, English II, US History, Geometry, Algebra, and English III than the previous year even though the cut scores required to pass have progressively gone up. These EOI scores are becoming more critical since state law requires all of our juniors and below to pass four of the seven EOIs to graduate. At the elementary and middle grade levels, regular student’s composite scores exceeded last year in 4th grade reading; 5th grade math, science, social studies, and writing; and 8th grade math, reading, and social studies. Again, we are getting good performance from our regular students.
However, a perfect storm has been brewing with regards to test scores that has impacted this year’s AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress – for many of our schools. You recall that No Child Left Behind passed some years ago requiring all schools to be “perfect” by the year 2014. Consequently, the Oklahoma legislature started raising the standards for passing and for making AYP for all student subgroups. Those higher standards have put three of our schools on the list for not making AYP and seven others are in a warning year. Briarglen did not make AYP in reading, 8th grade ELL students did not make it in math and reading, and though the I-High did make AYP in reading this year, their economically disadvantaged, ELL, and African-American students did not make it in math. The fact that the Intermediate ELL group has been on the School Improvement List for three years means that the district’s accreditation is on probationary status. Obviously, these are serious matters and as much as we have done in the past, we need to become even more targeted and intentional.
As much as I criticize a national and state testing system that penalizes larger districts like ours while providing small schools no accountability, and does not measure the growth over time for individual students but instead compares this year’s groups with last year’s groups, I can’t ignore that with high standards in place, we are getting uneven performance from our student groups.
In some schools, it is ELL students. In some it is IEP or Economically Disadvantaged students. At some sites it is reading and in others it is math. This is not a “them vs. us” issue. Unless all of our students are successful, Union is not successful. We have to help each student meet the standards required. The test results from your school will require lots of study this year, and I encourage you to use the tools at your disposal to know the students you serve and be sure that they are meeting the standards of the state curriculum. If we do that, making AYP and full district accreditation will take care of itself. Work to identify the pyramid of intervention strategies that catch a student before failure, and work the system with students who need extra help. Make every minute count and made sure every activity is meaningful rather than busy work. We are all accountable for each and every student’s success, and we need every bus driver and cafeteria worker and teacher’s aide to help make a difference too.
Whatever it Takes
I am very optimistic. I know that we can “do whatever it takes” because we have done it in so many ways in the past. Just think about the legacy of successes at Union that bring us to 2010. Last year in athletics we were named School of the Year for the third straight year after winning state championships in football, Pom, baseball, slow-pitch softball and girls’ track and a national championship in varsity cheerleading. The girls in slow-pitch softball were named 6A Academic Champions. Our athletes are becoming champions of character with an emphasis on academics, service, and leadership.
Union now has 100 National Board certified professionals. That is over 10% of our teaching staff.
The Renegade Regiment is back. This year they will march 225 students and compete in Grand Nationals.
Our district fine arts program serves thousands of students, and you can see today how their talents are developed.
Union’s Adult Ed program helped 360 students earn their GEDs.
There are more than 30 student organizations at the High School, and Student Council was awarded the 2010 National Gold Council of Excellence Award.
If there was an award for shining floors, clean buildings, an efficient warehouse, and manicured grounds, our support team would win. We are so proud of the way you maintain our facilities.
Our early childhood program serves almost 400 children under age four. What a great start they will have.
The quality of food in our cafeterias has improved so much, and more fruits and vegetables are coming.
Union was awarded the Tulsa Area United Way’s highest honor – the Sun Award – in recognition of our support of the United Way.
A Union Collegiate Academy team beat out all other American teams in the Junior Achievement Company of the Year competition.
The 2010 graduating class topped 1,000 students and received more than $11.3 million dollars worth of scholarship offers.
Thanks to support for last year’s bond issue that exceeded 78%, Grove Elementary is beginning to look like a brand new school, the new turf at the stadium is eye-popping, and the new floor and bleachers at the 8th grade are beautiful. It is so affirming to be supported by the community.
Our curriculum specialists and curriculum coaches in Title I schools have proven to be invaluable.
Our Extended Day Program is something to be proud of.
The Enrollment Center has made the extra effort to police student residency issues. We continue to get Finance and Communication awards for outstanding performance.
I could go on and on and never get to all the great accomplishments that happen around the district. They all give me the confidence to know that it is going to be another great school year. There is no doubt we are on a journey together to Build a More Perfect Union for our students. I hope that even in challenging times you can remain positive and share that optimism with the community and students we serve. You will be the ones to touch the lives of students this year – so let’s make it significant. Let’s commit ourselves to doing “whatever it takes” to ensure their success.
Thank you for your commitment and I hope that you have an awesome year.