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Mr.  Jim  Boles
Upper School
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MId-Year State of the School Address 2014-2015 - Boles

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State of the School Address – Mid-Year Report 2014-2015

It’s that time of the year again where I like to reflect on the direction of the school.  This is not something that I am officially required; rather, a responsibility I assume because I think it is very important for you to have an idea of where I believe we are and where we need to go.  We could always sit back and rest on our laurels and think -we’re CSAS.  However, there will never be progress if we were to take on that mindset.  As I mentioned in last year’s State of the School Address Mid-Year Report, this  report mostly comes from an upper school perspective, but it may touch on some K-12 topics as well.  I will follow a similar format as last year and try to address several different areas from several different perspectives.  Please read all the sections to have a more complete perspective.

Students

To get the best evaluation or feel for a school I always say you should talk to the students.  They will give you an honest assessment of the school culture and climate and how well we are doing over all.  So I encourage you to ask a student how it’s going and see what they say.  Don’t settle for that surface level answer of “it’s okay I guess” (in a dopey voice), but probe them a bit and see what you can find out.  Here’s what I think about students from a principal’s perspective…

Understanding?

I sometimes think the students don’t understand how lucky they are to be in a place that is as real-world as it gets.  We are probably the most diverse school in the county, and I believe that we prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them.  As a faculty and staff we really try to listen to student voice.  While we have not reached the level of student voice that I hope for, I think we really try to take into account the way they think and/or feel.  For example, we have phone policy that has some privileges that come along with it.  While we follow Hamilton County’s cell phone policy, we have made some slight adjustments to it to meet students “ in the middle.”  I often question that decision, and ask myself a lot of questions: Are allowing too much time with technology? Are students learning to interact with one another like they should? Are they learning digital citizenship?  The list of questions could go on and on, but technology is a way of life now.  Do we embrace it or do we fight it?  We would like to embrace it, but we still want to help our students to understand that there is a time and place for technology and that the speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills are all still very important. 

Personalization and Goals

Like last year, we are still focusing on “what makes students tick.”  This focus will probably always be a theme for me because I want to know and want students to realize what they are passionate about.  I want them to acknowledge and celebrate what makes them get out of bed each day.  Then I want them to build on that zeal and share it with others.  Ultimately, each year I hope to build on that passion.  In addition to their personal passions, this year we have challenged students to build a new academic mindset, to respect themselves and then one another, and to think globally.  We haven’t reached our goals yet, because these are all lofty goals.  In particular, because we exist in a society that values immediacy and instant gratification, we have not achieved a mindset yet that encourages perseverance, standing up to a challenge, enjoying something that is challenging.  In addition, we have not yet learned to value the power of curiosity and hard work.  We have somehow come to value the “A” more than the learning, and we forgot to celebrate plain old grit!  Instead, we tend to shy away from challenging classes or topics, or get upset with the teacher who doesn’t want to give extra credit for an A.  There are even those who want to change schools because this one presents too many challenges.  I’d like to remind everyone that learning takes time: it is not immediate and it cannot always be fully measured by a number.  The teachers understand the value of process and challenge: I’m grateful for that even when it’s hard!

While I think we do a better job than most on how we respect ourselves and one another, we are far from where we need to be.  We are often too lax and think that respect, grades, and voice are a given rather than something earned.  We are on our way to thinking globally but we’re taking baby steps to arrive there.  In the spring we will begin the first step of our Spanish exchange with Gredos San Diego, a school district in Madrid.  We have eleven students and two or three teachers coming to stay with us for two weeks.  We will need host homes to make sure their visit is truly a cultural experience rather than just a vacation. At this point, we have a much smaller delegation from CSAS that will leave for Madrid the second week we are out of school.  Even though it is a small group, we are excited to reciprocate and get this exchange started.  We look forward to building this relationship with Spain.  Other exciting news relates to  our Tono, Japan exchange.  I recently had a meeting with some graduates from our school who participated in the Tono exchange and they were devastated to learn that this program had fizzled.  They are making plans to support this program and rebuild it.  So many of our former student participants in this program worked in Japan at some point in their careers and that opportunity to participate in a global experience was a life changing experience for them all.  We hope these two programs and more will be something that our CSAS students have to look forward to and participate in.

No Trade

Despite some of my concerns and wishes for improvement, I wouldn’t trade our students for anything.  They are also the ones who come up every now and then and tell me how much they appreciate me or one of their teachers.  They are also the ones who may see a student sitting by himself and pick up their tray and go sit with that person.  They are the ones who see a student, family, or teacher in need and organize something special to help them out.  They are also the ones who often rise to the occasion.  They may seminar in front of the Secretary of Education, speak on the Be True to Your School radio program, or volunteer at the Community Kitchen.  Nope, even though we’re not where we want to be, I wouldn’t trade ‘em for anything!

Parents

 I have been asked many times, “What is the difference between CSAS and other schools?”  Parents are always a part of that answer.  For the most part we have parents who get their students to school on time, check in on their grades regularly, check in on their homework, and are willing to put in hours that contribute to their students’ education.

 I asked this last year, though, and I want to extend the same offer again this year.  How many of you truly understand the Paideia Philosophy?  How many of you have read any of Mortimer Adler’s books?  The one to start with is The Paideia Proposal and if you have never read it, I highly encourage you to do so.  We have copies that can be checked out through our admissions office and we would be more than glad to share a copy with you.

I spoke about mindset in the student section, but I feel that it may be even more important to speak with you about it.  Our faculty read the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. over the summer and discussed it upon our return.  We all believed it was a very powerful book personally and professionally.  We believe that it is important for our students to begin learning about mindset and we would like you to do so as well.  The faculty is willing to have some book discussions with parent groups.  All you have to do is let us know you are interested.  With enough interest, we will set a date and let folks know to go ahead and purchase the book. 

Attendance has always been something CSAS can be proud of.  However, I have growing concerns about attendance and tardiness to school.  Parents, ultimately that falls back on you.  We really have no excuses for arriving late to school.  We are an 8:55 a.m. starting school.  While we need to remember that attendance and tardiness are two things that can cause a student to lose his or her seat in a magnet school, let us not forget that attendance and punctuality are also crucial workplace traits.  Let’s reduce that and make it a non-issue.

The parking lot is another area for improvement.  I’ll be honest,  -our teachers need active duty pay when they go out to bus duty.  I just ate lunch and a parent came up and talked to me about her daughter’s experience at CSAS.  She said - it has been a true pleasure except for one thing -the parking lot.  Our parking lot situation is challenging due to space and outlets.  This challenge is one more reason that we MUST be diligent in our drop-off and pick-up process.  We must use the entire drop off area (from the wall next to the playground all the way around to the end of the gym) when letting our students out.  We must insist that our students are ready to hop out with their things on the right side of the vehicle for expediency.  We must be patient, be aware, (yes, off cell phones), and be willing to follow the rules for the safety of our students, teachers, and parents in the lot.  The rules cannot only apply to “other people.”  We would love solutions.  Expressing your concerns for a better parking/drop-off/pick-up area should be addressed with the school safety supervisors at HCDE and perhaps our PTSA as well.  That may be something they are willing to tackle.   If you come with a concern, also come with a solution.  Helping correct this one issue may be one of the single most helpful things to set our tone for each day.

Finally, let’s not forget our Parent Teacher Student Organization.  They have been so supportive during my last two years helping to fund teachers, student and parent programs, and they raise money that will ultimately benefit your student.  A new CSAS store has been developed where you can purchase CSAS gear and have it delivered right to your house.  Here are some instructions if you would like to browse around or place an order.  Go to www.divcompanies.com  . Click on "storefront " in top right page.  Create an account (this is what everyone will do. All order history is based off of email address).  Once the account is created, sign in and use the portal code "CSAS”.  They are also working very hard to have our online auction that will be the entire week of Parent Conferences in February.  If you have items that can be donated, please be sure to let the PTSA know.  The PTSA is more than just a group who fundraises though.  We need to remember how powerful a voice it can be as well.  I look at our sister school CSLA and the voice they have shared in their desire for a new school.  CSAS has needs as well, and the PTSA is a tremendous voice that has been heard in the past and needs to be heard in the future.  If you haven’t joined or participated it’s not too late and it’s very reasonable at just $10 per family. 

Teachers

Teachers are under more pressure these days than ever before.  Test scores, growth scores, attendance rates, etc. are all being measured and the problem is both the students and teachers have been held hostage to a variety of standards.  Do they teach state standard SPI’s or Common Core State Standards?  The answer I have given them is YES.  Both the students and the teachers are stuck between multiple tests for accountability that are a sort of hybrid of assessments from TCAP, TCAP Writing Assessments, EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT tests, benchmarks, CRA’s and more!  They are also implementing more programs that have to be built into the school day.  Yet our teachers continue to do more with less.  Schools are not receiving extra teachers to implement these programs, and they are not receiving more time to teach all of the standards -But they continue to produce.  Like everyone, our teachers all have room for improvement.  We are working hard to assess each student to be sure individuals don’t “fall through the cracks.”  We are finding ways to remediate students who need help and other ways to launch students into new areas where they can grow and explore.  We are trying to fine-tune our practices by using new strategies, engaging students, and making the work real to the students.  The fact is, the bar continues to be set higher and higher and the task continues to get harder and harder.

Administration

Last year I reported that our administrative team was still learning about one another’s strengths and weaknesses.  Through growing pains, tears and laughter I believe we have started this year as a stronger unit.  We are always looking for growth as a team.  Our conversations are 99% about academics when we’re together now.  Both Ms. Gaines and Mr. Perdue are doing things that free me up to do other things.  I look to them to be the leaders of their “schools” internally so that I can be thinking about community connections, foreign exchange programs, funds, alumni relations, and public relations.  I could never let go of the day –to- day interactions with the students, the parents, and the teachers, but I need to be out in the community promoting our school, sharing our successes, and finding ways to fund the programs and facilities for our students.   Being out of the building means I need to know that I have a strong administrative team and faculty that allow me to do just that.  I hope to do that more and more of this in the months ahead.

                We appreciate the willingness of parents to come in and talk with us when there are problems too.  When that happens I feel like there is trust and two groups of people who are trying to work together.  There will always be an ear here to listen.  We may not always agree, but if we can work toward a solution as a team, I think everyone wins, especially the student. 

Finances

For a second year in a row, finances at the school are not good.  The upper school has not collected the funds through school fees to cover its bills for the remainder of the year.  School fees are VERY important and pay for things that are not covered by Hamilton County.  I assure you that, it is all spent on things that will benefit your student.  So once again, we are pleading for families who have not paid their school fees to do so.  If you cannot pay the full amount of $55, then pay what you can.  Only 50% of our families have paid school fees over the past two years and this lack of funding from the state, local, and school level is beginning to hurt.  We do realize that our school fee process has been difficult over the years with the school fee, then a science fee, math fee, etc…  Next year we plan to go to just one fee that will cover all things.  It will be a larger amount, but you can wipe it all out in one swift movement of a pen to a check.  We’re hoping that this will save you some frustrations and help us to collect in a more efficient manner.  Some private school in town and receive endowments from alumni. We’re asking for a reasonable amount to cover materials. 

I guess my biggest concern is those who choose not to pay because they don’t “have to.”  While it’s not a huge number, it is large enough to affect our funding- and our teachers’ morale.  We have teachers who come early, stay late, and give 100% to students.  Teachers listen to students’ problems, write recommendations to Governor’s Schools, universities and jobs.  Teachers chaperone dances, sponsor clubs, go on trips, and come to ball games.  They work seven days a week the entire year when it’s not required.  Please honor your child’s experience at a school where he is not a number.

In closing, I don’t want you to walk away feeling less than positive about the work at CSAS.  However, if we honestly reflect like I am trying to do here, we can only continue to grow and make this into the institution we believe it to be and want it to be.  It’s like an award winning orchestra or band.  We all have to be in tune and working in harmony to create beautiful music.  I want CSAS and its students to achieve greatness.  How about we all tune up our instruments?

Respectfully.

Jim Boles

Principal, CSAS Upper