Friday, December 10, 2010

Thankfulness - The Blogging Challenge

This week I was reminded, yet again, that I am not actually in control of what happens in life.  Just when you think you have it all figured out fate steps in, shakes it's finger right in your face and says, "I don't think so"!  I am supremely grateful for the most wonderful and supportive school family any principal could ever be lucky enough to have.  I felt loved beyond belief this morning when I shared my gift, this "surprising"poem, with them...

My wish for you this time of year,
Are days filled with fun and holiday cheer!
Family, food and gifts galore,
You never know what the future’s got in store.

So make some time to take a rest,
And hold on to the ones you love the best,
Enjoy the moments shared with kith and kin,
Before the hustle bustle of the new year begins again.

And just in time for this special season,
Quite certainly there must be a reason-
Here’s a big dose of holidrama,
Next summer I’m gonna be a Mama!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - My Life as a Writer

 by Olivander on flickr
I've gotten behind on the challenge, which fits perfectly with how I'd describe my life as a writer.  I also dug back into an old blog post I wrote on this very topic almost a year ago when I was struggling with the exact same things.  As I read the old post I realized that it still summizes this part of my life perfectly...

Originally posted on December 4, 2009
Growing up I NEVER thought of myself as a writer, especially not a good writer. My childhood friend Catherine was the writer - and exceptional at it! I was never confident about it and actually found it to be a painful experience. I wasn't always the best student. I was a major procrastinator and daydreamed way too much to ever actually get any thoughts down on paper.

Looking back I'm not even sure I knew how to write, at least not until high school when I landed in the classrooms of two very special English teachers, Mrs. Hedgepath's 9th grade Honors and Mrs. Gobbel's 12th grade AP. Mrs. Hedgepath taught me to write from the heart and express my feelings about the topic at hand. I loved her, her class and every writing assignment she gave me. Headed into that AP class in 12th grade I never, ever imagined I would pass the end exam - after all, you had to write a 5 paragraph essay on some obsure literary topic in 30 minutes or less. Hardly anybody ever passed the essay portion and I didn't even consider it a possibility. But, Mrs. Gobbel taught me to think critically, organize my thoughts and succinctly put it all down. She was confident in my ability, and guess what, I got the essay done and PASSED. I was one of only a few that year, out of group of peers I considered much more talented than me. It was HUGE for me.
So much of my job over the years has required me to write, a lot, and in many different ways. And even though I find myself complaining about the volume from time to time I actually really enjoy it and the thoughts and ideas flow fairly easily once I'm started. That is, until the last few weeks. I have had the worst case of writer's block EVER! I've started and stopped many blog posts, fought through the technical writing my job requires and basically avoided the creative process because it had truly become painful. It hasn't happened but a time or two in the last twenty years, and I have really resisted struggling through it this time, and it has really bothered me. Ignoring the issue was easy since everyone had very carefully avoided asking me why I wasn't writing until my mother in law, whom I adore :), asked me last week if I had just quit my weekly blog. Ugh - you gotta love those mothers in law for holding you accountable just when you need it the most.
So, I committed myself to pushing through it and getting back on the communication bandwagon again. Forgive me if its rough at first but there is a lot of stuff rattling around upstairs and it will take me some time to sort through it and get it all out. Being able to share through the written word is a huge part of who I am and I've missed the creative expression. When I'm writing I am focused and when I'm focused, I am productive. When I'm productive, WATCH OUT! Thank goodness I had two teachers along the way who brought my inner writer to life, writing has shaped who I've become, how I feel about myself and how I relate to every single part of life.

Even though this post has taken way longer than it should've, I'm already starting to feel better...

During the last three weeks I haven't exactly had writer's block but I have certainly allowed other things to distract me from putting ink to paper.  Or maybe being distracted is just an excuse for covering up writer's block - anyway.  I was forced today to write something to meet a seriously quick deadline so I put my headphones on, closed the door and got it done in record time.  It was actually pretty good and the sense of accomplishment I had at completing it and pleasing the person I was writing it for made me feel great.  I think writing for others makes the difference. So...whether it's writer's block or distraction I'm getting back on track!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - Small Moment

In a large organization sometimes its easy to feel lost, like you are nothing more than a widget being moved or placed without thought or control.  Mandates and  missives come at you from every direction and cause you to make mistakes or miss things.  You become part of the machine.  I hate this because often my mistakes effect the very folks I'm trying so hard to protect and I never want what I do to define who I am. 

I got frustrated this week - it happens.  The good thing is that right when I felt the worst I ran across a book I've had on the corner of my desk since the summer,  The Big Moo, by Seth Godin.  The first thing to hit me was the subtitle: "Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable". Hmp! Major life reminder right smack dab on the front of the book! I flipped the book open to find these words: "Who You Are Is What You Do"; I read on to Mr. Godin's reminders that I am not a cog, but rather a valuable asset to others, capable of impact and leaving a legacy and then to his challenge - "'re remarkable.  Now, hurry.  Don't let yourself (and the rest of us) down."

Don't worry - I don't plan to.  I'm a Purple Cow in a brown cow world...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - What Book Made the Biggest Impact on Your Life?

Rain Makes Applesauce, by Julian Scheer, is hands down my choice for the book that has made the biggest impact on my life. I vividly remember going to the library in my small town on Saturdays with my Mama to check out picture books. We stumbled across this book on one of our trips and I'm quite certain we checked it out 10-15 times during my childhood. I can still feel the disappointment I experienced on the few weeks we wanted to check out the book only to find that someone else had beat us to it. I loved it because it made my Mama smile to read it's silly verse and we'd sit together for hours and look at the extraordinary illustrations. In looking back I know that this book is the one that "taught" me to use images to bring life to the words I read because even though the words didn't make sense the pictures created comprehension for me. As a result taking the time to create mental images and see the story as I read has became a gift (and a curse - slow reader) as I tackled the written word throughout my life. when I decided to become a teacher it is the first book I went out and bought for my classroom.

About the Book:
Rain Makes Applesauce is filled with seemingly nonsensical verse after verse of “silly talk” coupled with the repeating line “and rain makes applesauce” which at first sounds absurd but actually holds the only real truth found in the lyrical poem. The elegant and fanciful prose is perfectly suited to the equally as engaging illustrations found in this delightful book. The pictures are full of intricate detail designed to stretch the imaginations of the reader. It is only under closer observation that the reader discovers the surprising image on each page that mirrors the repeating line. In 1965 this book was chosen to receive the Caldecott Honor Medal.

Using the Book with My Faculty:
I chose Rain Makes Applesauce as our April 2008 Book of the Month because from time to time I think we all need to be reminded that it is important to look upon ideas and images with the wonderment and interest of a child. Just as a child may return to this book over and over again and each time see something new and interesting and different so must we in our work with students. We must be on the constant search for “new meanings, new images and new responses” to impact our instruction and our interactions with students. Our students are like the apple seeds in the beginning of this book. Knowledge for them must be planted carefully, cultivated and nurtured regularly. From time to time a storm will have to be weathered and understanding that even a little rain goes a long way towards producing a great result makes the journey pretty sweet in the end. Rain does indeed make applesauce and I’m not just talking silly talk!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - My Life as a Mathematician

It's funny.  When I saw that this was one of the topics for the blogging challenge I have to admit I was dreading it, but ironically, I've ended up spending more time thinking about it than the other topics.  Growing up I never hated math and in fact when I think back I'm pretty sure my worst grades were in Reading, which was my favorite. I can vividly remember learning my times tables in the third grade by singing them.  The 6s had a country beat and the 7s were disco!  Those two were my favorites!  I could memorize the steps and I certainly could repeat them problem after problem.  However, word problems were a completely different story - yikes!  My life as a young mathematician was uneventful, just page after page of problems, and I was happy until of course, I got to the two word problems at the end of the workbook page.

My happy go lucky math life completely changed when I got to the tenth grade.  Algebra II! Binomials, conjugates and logarithms - oh my!  I had the worst experience.  I didn't get it and my teacher didn't help me - I made the first and only F ever on my report card that year. :( At the end of that year I closed the book on Math and made sure I never took another Math class until college.  I only took one then because I had to.  That professor was slightly more helpful but I really only made it through because of the outstanding tutor I found who could actually explain the concepts to me in a way I could understand.  I've worked hard as an adult to improve my mathematical skills and understanding.

As my own daughter came through elementary school completely immersed in a conceptually based math curriculum I began to realize why I did okay early on but struggled as the Math got more complex.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - what the Math really meant.  As long as I could memorize the facts or repeat the same steps over and over to solve the problems I had it made.  My daughter understands why the Math works and knows many ways to solve any problem she encounters.  I've learned a lot from helping her her over the years and I still learn something about why Math works with every lesson I observe.  If I had been taught the way she was there is no telling how far I would have gotten in the study of Mathematics.

I have always been able to just see patterns and sequences.  Timing, schedules and organizing data are easy for me and I use Math almost every day to do my job.  I calculate percents and averages, generate complex schedules, analyze and create data, and efficiently manage a large budget.  I view each task as a personal challenge and every time I approach a problem these days that requires me to think mathematically, I feel encouraged and accomplished.  Conquering something that hasn't always been easy makes you feel pretty great! Effort + Determination = Skill

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - Class Poll

Sometimes a blog post can be as simple as polling your class about a topic and then sharing the results.  It's fun to see what others think and discover the similarities and differences between us.  This week I polled my "class" (the teachers) to find out:

What was your favorite subject in elementary school?

Here's what the "class" had to say:

Julie - Reading
Liz - Reading
Danielle - Reading
Nina - Math/Science
Laura - Math
Debby - Reading
Michelle - Reading
JJ - Reading
Vicky - Reading/Writing
Brooke - Writing

First Grade
Patricia - Math
Toni - Music
Tracy - Science
Rebecca - Reading
Maria - History
Cheryl - Math
Debbie - Reading
Lauren - Reading/Writing
dayle - Algebra/Biology (yeah, right!)

Second Grade
Rachel - Reading
Heather - Writing
Karen - Social Studies
Lori - Science
Jessica - Reading
Kathi - English
Lauren - Math
Wanda - Writing
Christina - English
Laurie - Art
Debbie - Reading/Writing
Beth - reading

Third Grade
Lynn - Reading
Lindsay - Reading
Katie - Math
Randi - Reading
Melissa - Reading
Ashley - Writing
Denise - Science
Cindy - Math
Cheryl - Math
Tammi - PE
Christy - Writing
Melonie - Social Studies/Writing

Fourth Grade
Bridget - Math
Joe - Math
Angela - Math
Rick - Math
Meli - Reading
Christine - PE

Fifth Grade
Kristin - Social Studies
Tom - Social Studies
Terri - Reading
Sherrie - Recess
Carolyn - Science
Lauren - Math

Moe - Science
Suzanne - Math
Melanie - Reading
Betsy - Reading
Jen - Art
KK - Reading
DeeDee - Language Arts
Nikki - PE
Ray - Math
Jane - Recess
Joy - Math

It was so interesting to find out how many of our teachers are actually now teaching in the exact subject areas that were their favorite as children, and how many that aren't!  Some of the responses really surprised me and then others were exactly what I thought.  And as for has always been...READING!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - My Life as a Reader

About a year ago I wrote a really great post about my life as a reader - one that I think most accurately describes my reading life most of the time. At least the reading life that's most pleasant to live. However, when I look back over the last six months I clearly see that the reading life described in that post is definitely not what I've been living lately. I love to get lost in a great story but right now I can't even remember the name of the last piece of fiction I read. How sad is that?

My more recent reading has included all informational text like medical research, insurance policies, professional books, online journals, blogs, charts and tables of test item specs, standards documents, data and then there's the email. Email these days accounts for over half of all that I read...ugh. There are days where I think I'll never get it all read or answered.

I guess the point is that there are seasons in the life of a reader too and while I certainly enjoy "summer" reading more, "winter" reading is a necessity. I have learned a lot from all that informational reading, facts that have helped me make sense of chaos, ideas that have helped me to plan, and opportunites that have made a difference in the life of others. Maybe "winter" reading isn't all that bad after all.

This week my standards coach popped into my office with a book, a piece of fiction, that she just felt I had to read. I believe her exact words were, "you will love this book, you won't be able to put it down once you've started". She never, ever brings me "summer" reading so perhaps it was fate that sent her to me with a book to take home this weekend. A good reading "vacation" might be just what I need...
Photo courtesy by: Michael (mx5tx) on Flickr

Friday, October 1, 2010

Will You Accept The Blogging Challenge?

Once the first several people began to blog at Chets Creek the opportunity quickly caught on like wildfire, just as the many really exceptional ideas do around here.  It was new, we had exciting things to share and it was easy.  Well folks, it's not new anymore, but we still have exciting things to share and it really is easy.  I think we make it hard sometimes.  We allow ourselves to collect preconcieved notions about what our posts have to look like, or how long they have to be, or what they have to say.  By overthinking it we became paralyzed by it and forget that each and every one of us has something to share.  Throughout last year the majority of us fell victim to "unblogging" and missed out on the power that can come from taking the time to reflect on your work and then share it with others.  I completely undersand why it happens - it happened to me, too!  At the end of the year I encouraged each of you who had fallen out of the habit (including myself :) to get after it again.  Throw out those ideas about what should be and just do it.  Getting back into the habit  will remind you why you started in the first place - you just have to get your groove back.

Earlier this week my tech mentor, Melanie Holtsman, (who also struggled with blogging last year :) approached me about an idea that could help those who are struggling to get back into the routine of blogging - a blogging challenge.  Write one blog post a week for 10 of the next 11 weeks.  Tag your post with "fallblogchallenge2010" and send Melanie an email so that she'll know you're joining our challenge.  She and dayle timmons even came up with a list of topics you can use to jump start the practice.  Feel free to modify them to suit your needs.  They are all things that each of us would be interested in knowing about our colleagues and their work.


I'm in!  Let the blogging begin! Are you ready to take the challenge?

Friday, September 24, 2010

You're in BIG Trouble...NOT!

Traditionally a trip to the Principals' office is not a good thing.  It happens as the end result of a poor choice made and at worst - a referral!  On Wednesday of this week eight anxious third graders entered my office unsure of why they had even been called to the office.  I immediately informed them they were there because they had a received a referral - a positive referral!  As part of our effort to create citizens of character we have implemented a Positive Recognition Referral at Chets Creek.   Teachers are encouraged to use them to acknowledge students who have:
_____A. Shown RESPECT for self and others: Is attentive and careful of others' feelings and stops and thinks before acting.
_____B. Shown RESPONSIBILITY: Brings appropriate materials and homework daily; has set a goal and has a plan to get there; decides what is important and does it.
_____C. Shown KINDNESS: Treats others the way he/she wants to be treated and cooperates with others.
_____D. Shown SELF-CONTROL: Is trustworthy; listens, follows directions, and chooses to do what he/she knows is the right choice.
_____E. Shown a POSITIVE ATTITUDE: Looks for the best in self and others.
_____F. Has shown GREAT IMPROVEMENT in: _______________________________!
The actions I may take include verbal acknowledgement with the students, phone contact with the parents or public acknowledgement in the school.  I loved talking with this first group of students about how they ended up in my office - no one fretted or cried and no dreaded phone calls were made.  In fact, we celebrated their outstanding displays of character and everyone left with a big smile on their face and a one of a kind "My Principal is Proud of Me!" pencil.  I can't wait for the the next student to get a refferal - the Principal's Office may never be the same again!

Friday, September 17, 2010

BUDs Club - A Tiny Little Division of the PTA

All the research shows that male involvement in the education of our youth has a powerful impact.  Male role models are needed and appreciated in schools.  Six years ago our PTA President and her husband led the charge to get more males involved in our school by organizing the BUDs Club.  BUDs stands for Brothers, Uncles, Dads but is inclusive of any male figure of importance to our children's lives.  This "tiny little division of the PTA" quickly proved what a BIG impact it could have.  In 2007 our BUDs Club was honored with a coveted Parent Involvement Award by the Florida PTA. The small group of charter members has grown to be 100 strong today!  Over the years they have shown up in force to help with the heavy lifting, participated as guest readers in our classrooms, and held movie nights.  Their biggest and most anticipated event each year is without a doubt the Pancake Pigout Breakfast.  The BUDs get up early to cook thousands of pancakes and sausage links, cut up fruit, pour juice and prepare our dining room to host hundreds of Chets Creek students and their BUDs before school.  They even let moms, grandmas and aunts eat, too! And throughout all the fun they plan they have accomplished the goal of getting more males involved - our number of males volunteering has quadrupled!  And as for me - there's nothing like seeing the happy faces of our children as they proudly introduce me to their BUD!   

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fuel Up To Play - It's Team Spirit Day!

Today was Team Spirit Day at the Creek! Many donned the colors of their favorite NFL or college teams, and some wore their CCE spirit shirts, but all the Creekers celebrated the fact that they were part of a special team that works together and supports each other. Our PE Team approached me about implementing a Fuel Up to Play program this year in an effort to compete for a $10,000 NFL Play 60 grant that will be awarded to 34 Super Schools this year. I immediately became excited about the activities they had planned for promoting nutrition and exercise with our students. They kicked off their program today with Back to Football Friday that included football activities through PE classes this week and culminated in our entire school committing to completing 2 laps around our track immediately following lunch today. This whole school effort resulted in a whopping 700 miles logged during the event! Twenty lucky participants were also awarded either a football autographed by one of our local Jacksonville Jaguar players or a Jaguars program book! Aside from the health and wellness grant the winning schools also receive a visit from a NFL player. The kids were excited to have accepted and exceeded the goal for our first challenge. The Creek's got sprirt - yes we do - the Creek's got spirit - how 'bout you???

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Book Fairy's Magic

I vividly remember the first day I met KK Cherney. I had been surplussed from a school I loved and had been sent to work at a new school being built. I was nervous about meeting my new principal and so uncertain about what my future held. She greeted me with a 1000 watt smile and the warmest hey and sincerest welcome you’ve ever heard at the door of our first assembly as a faculty and my life has never been the same. The pit in my stomach turned to anticipation of something that was sure to be exciting if she was involved. In looking back over the last 13 years, exciting isn’t quite the right word – the experience is more like electrifying! I fell in love with her instantly. I can also promise you that everyone, grown or not, who has met her could share a near identical story.

She understands the importance of relationships and seeks to know and love every child she serves. She is routinely sought out by students for celebrations of a goal achieved, help in completing a difficult task, or for a hug and reassurance that everything will be ok during times of disappointment and sadness. One of the greatest honors I receive is when a child mistakenly calls me Mrs. KK – I wish! She engages authors, illustrators, business partners, and community members in joining our mission to create truly meaningful learning experiences for children. She doesn’t know the word “no” and sees every obstacle to success as a mere challenge.

I have never known an educator more passionate about creating a love of books in children. Her passion for the written word is contagious. From enthralling story times, that almost surely involve costuming or props, to her engagement of students in the use of Web 2.0 tools every child loves the learning time spent with Mrs. KK. Our “Book Fairy” routinely spends every dime of the profits from our Book Fairs each year buying and placing books in the hands of those who might not have them otherwise. She worked this past year to create an offsite library in one of our largest neighborhoods so that families could get their hands on books after the school day and throughout the summer.

I was not surprised to find out this summer that she had been nominated for and selected as one of the five finalists for the Alferd Williams Literacy Award given by Scholastic to honor those who inspire a love of reading. Alferd Williams enrolled in first grade at the age of 70 after a lifetime of illiteracy to make good on a promise he had made to his mother to learn to read. In my book there is no one more more suited for or deserving of this honor than KK Cherney. Please visit to place your vote for Chets Creek Elementary’s Book Fairy, KK Cherney!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rise and Shine...It's Time to Get in the Fields!

At Chets Creek Elementary this year we are "Cultivating a Community of Excellence".  As a family we have been challenged to till back into the soil on which our strong foundation has been built, yank out any weeds that are threatening our work and plant a crop that will yield our best harvest to date.  This will only be accomplished by focusing on and then strengthening each area of our Guiding Vision.  During our opening day I shared some simple, but powerful ways that we can grow ourselves professionally as well as personally in each of these areas:

Bountiful Relationships: By understanding one's Emotional Intelligence you can greatly improve your ability to relate and deal with others and in turn improve your opportunities for success.  In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves describe EQ in four skills.
1) Self Awareness - Your ability to understand your own emotions and typical reactions
2) Self Management - Your ability to control your reactions to others, or not
3) Social Awareness - Your ability to perceive the emotions of others and understand them
4) Relationship Management - Your ability to use your own emotions and your understanding of the emotions of others to manage interaction with success
What have you done to improve or build your EQ with students, parents or colleagues?

Fruitful Risks: In Seth Godin's book, The Purple Cow, he describes how companies create that special marketing idea that dares to be so different from others that it takes the business to a whole new level of success.  It requires the risk taker to be REMARKABLE.  Remarkably innovative, driven and authentic.
Have you dared to be PURPLE?

Grade A Results:  In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins investigates why highly successful organizations fail.  It was determined that over time that they lose sight of lose sight of what made them so unique and special in the first place and get complacent about their successes.  To keep from falling into this trap you have to look  at the Underlying Factors that affect your work, undertake Disciplined Creativity, participate in frequent and purposeful Fact-Based Dialogue, and embrace the Disciplines of Greatness.
What data have you gathered to guide your work? Have you engaged a colleague in conversation about the standards?  Have you volunteered to lead or participate in a rewrite of homework or assessments?  Which one of our Core Values have you modeled for your students?

The land's been turned...
the water and sunshine are ready...
the seeds have been placed in your hands...
there's 175 days left for this year's growing season...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The End and a New Beginning

H.E. Luccock said, "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it." This year as skilled musicians we have studied, and continued to perfect our craft by working together to put each note in just the right place so that the sounds blended together into something so moving that the listener was changed forever. Music gave a soul to our universe, wings to our minds, flight to our imagination, and life to everything.
This year was about experiencing life through the moves of music. Kindergarten kept it simple as their little ones booted, scooted and boogied into school to a country beat. First Grade did the bump and hustle as they mastered reading and math in the glow a sparkling disco ball. Second grade will faced the bright lights of Broadway and showed their talents to the musical show tunes. Our Resources hit the high notes like the masters of the everlasting classics. Third Grade synthesized all learning styles into a sound as smooth as Caribbean rhythms. Fourth Grade knew their skills so well that they were able to improvise like the great Jazz musicians.  And Fifth Grade didn’t stop rockin and rollin us all year long!

We worked on tuning our instruments, read the score perfectly, moved our musicians to deliver each note with just the right timing and put together a beautiful masterpiece the likes of which no one has ever seen or heard. We orchestrated a symphony of student success.

Lao Tzu reminds us; “Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”

When I look out to where the dream takes us next I see acres of untilled relationships that lie ahead of us just waiting for the seeds of risk taking to be planted. Land capable of producing the most well nurtured bountiful result that could ever be harvested.
Farming isn’t easy. In fact Will Rogers said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” It takes planning, hard laborious work, problem solving, teamwork, creativity, faith and resolve. Sound familiar?

This year we aren’t dividing our farm. There won’t be separate sections for the cattle, apple trees, sunflowers or corn because we’re all members of this big farming family and it will take each of us working together to tend the crops so that we can yield the best results possible.

We started out as a good school, we quickly accepted good as our enemy and made our work with children great, but now it is the time weed out the great and work towards reaping a harvest of excellence. I’m convinced we are never going to get any better unless we dig back deep into the soil on which our foundation was built, bring back some of the basics, weed through the possibilities ahead of us, focus on providing what each little plant or animal needs and look for new and cutting edge ways to grow the next crop.

Next year at CCE we will Cultivate a Community of Excellence. And if there was ever a group of learning leaders who could make it happen - it's this one - I’d bet the farm on it!

Chets Creek Elementary School - Cultivating a Community of Excellence from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A New Trail Blazed...

Poet Robert Frost once said "Do not follow where the path may lead, Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail." This week a new trail was blazed by true visionaries. For a number of years many of us at the Creek have dreamed of creating a partnership with our largest neighborhood in an effort to provide some much needed support and services outside of the school day setting to our students. A little over 6 months ago our Leadership Team reached out to the management at the community and we held our first outreach day inside the neighborhood in December. The day was such a success that it left nothing but a desire to turn the partnership into something more substantial. Our Behavior Interventionist, Liz Duncan, Media Specialist, KK Cherney, and Community Manger, Jermaine White began immediately planning for the creation of a special "place" where we could meet our kids on their own turf and the Chets Creek Elementary Academic Resource Center (ARC) at Portside was born! American Residential Communities, the neighborhood's management company remodeled the old clubhouse, gifted furnishings and technology for students to access our district's online learning tools. The Chets Media Team contacted our partners Scholastic Book Fairs and Bonanza Books and a mobile library cart was provided and stocked with literature for checkout. The Chets Art Team prepped and painted a gorgeous mural to adorn a special storytelling room and the incerdibly generous Faculty and Staff have agreed to donate time throughout the summer so that the center can be open for our children to visit. Our School Advisory Council and other business partners, Chick-fil-A at Hodegs and Beach, Starbucks at Windsor Commons, the JGCC Women's Network and our Landstar Lunchtime Tutors were on hand along with dozens of neighborhood residents and children at our Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to get a first glimpse at this most incredible resource. The possibilities for where this path may lead us are endless and without a doubt I know the trail left behind will change the lives of all those on the journey.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hang In There...

Only a few more days before we can celebrate the conclusion of our high stakes accountability testing with a well deserved Spring Break! Reaching this pinnacle in the year is actually exhilarating as a little of the pressure we have felt turns to anticipation of the outstanding results to come. Now that testing is complete enjoy the next week and a half wrapping up the third grading period with your students. The focus turns to preparing them for next year.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Save Our Schools!

Article IX, Section I of the Florida Constitution guarantees that:

"The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida."

"It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for … a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education …."

Duval County expects to suffer from a $125 million budget deficit for the 2010-2011 academic year. All the facts tell us there is NO WAY to “trim the fat” and balance this budget crisis without affecting the classroom. In short, your child's school will suffer.

Guidance and Media services could be reduced!
Valuable resources like Art, Music and PE may be cut!
Essential supplies and materials could disappear altogether!

It is important to understand that this problem, this CRISIS, is not limited to Duval County alone. This fiscal crisis is statewide. Regarding the total amount of funds allocated and spent on education, the state of Florida is ranked 50th in the nation. I ask you, does this represent your priorities? I doubt it.

Are our legislators upholding the requirements of our state constitution?

As voters, we share a heavy burden. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves with accurate facts. It is our responsibility to make our voices heard. It is our responsibility to act. It is our responsibility to advocate for our children. It is our responsibility to fight for their rights, for today and for their future. If not us, then who? If we do not meet our duties, we cannot expect others to meet theirs.

I urge you. Educate yourselves. Research the facts. Go to the source. Ask questions. Speak out. Make demands. Do not accept it as fact because others believe it to be true.

Ask yourself, is 50th good enough for your child?

If the answer is NO - contact our state's legislative delegation and ask for immediate help from one of these short term solutions:

1. Please give flexibility to the school districts in the areas of categoricals, (SAI, Class Size, Instruction Materials, Reading, Safe Schools).

2. Please suspend unfunded mandates on the districts. (Examples: Transportation, Testing & Curriculum Requirements, Safety Nets, and Staffing Requirements.)

3. Please give flexibility of capital funds—so they can be used for General Revenue.

Ask them to find long term solutions to the critical funding situation in Florida and urge them to make public education a priority so that even our children's children can benefit from a right guaranteed them by our state constitution!

To learn more about how to get involved and about how to contact our legislators and ask them to make funding for public education in Florida a priority visit SaveDuvalSchools.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You Can Quote Me On That!

I'm always searching for just the right quote that punctuates the point I am trying to make in meetings, on agendas and in my writing. There are several that have always stuck with me and offer important descriptions and reminders about who and what I want to be. My all time favorite is:

No one saves us but ourselves,

no one can and no one may.

We ourselves must walk the path,

Teachers merely show the way.

For me it is the perfect anthem for personal accountability and for the impact our "teachers" of life have on providing points of direction. It's up to each of us to put the work into bettering ourselves but of paramount importance for those who lead to also be a guide. What's your favorite quote and why?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let's Celebrate Tracy Carlin Day at the Creek!

When you look at any successful organization, you will always find people behind the scenes who are dedicated, organized and who put all their energy and efforts into whatever task they have been given. Tracy Carlin is one such person to our organization. Every single day Tracy ensures that safety and security are priorities for all of our students, and she goes above and beyond the call of duty for our staff. She is pleasant to deal with and always greets others with a warm and friendly smile. It is the way in which she goes about her daily tasks that makes the difference and distinguishes her as an outstanding member of our team.

To say she is organized is an understatement. Whenever Tracy is given a task you can be assured that it will be completed quickly and efficiently. If it is something she is not sure of, she knows how to utilize her resources to find the answer. You will always see Tracy doing whatever is necessary, in order to benefit the school – even if it does not pertain to her normal duties. That’s just another way she shows her dedication to teamwork. Her attention to detail and her willingness to go beyond the call of duty in order to make all of our jobs easier is unprecedented.

Taking the time to celebrate each other and our accomplishments is an important way to build those all important relationships and foster a sense of community among each other. Last Friday, we got the opportunity to do just that when we took time to celebrate Tracy Carlin as our Employee of the Year. Congratulations Tracy - your Chets Creek family loves you!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Think 6!

This week our fourth graders tackled the FCAT Writes Test. It's a 45 minute demand write to an unknown prompt. Students prepare by understanding the standards expected and the rubric they will be graded on and by doing a little practice beforehand. The test is really "no sweat" because of the daily focus on and practice of writing that begins in Kindergarten. They are recieved special pencils from me with a pep talk and where encouraged along the way by not only their teachers but other classrooms throughout the school. It ends up being a great way for them to celebrate their writing accomplishment and they truly see it as a way to show the rest of the world what great authors they all are. I couldn't be prouder of them and their teachers. A perfect score of 6 is met with a limo ride and lunch with me and their teacher the following year. Nothing could make me happier than to have limos lined around the front drive....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Going Back to Cali...

Next week I will travel to Los Angeles, California for the America's Choice National Conference. Since our involvement, 11 years ago in this school reform the conference has proved to be a vital link to keep our momentum going in the foundational ideals of the design. It is a way for us to share our stellar work and to learn of the latest strategies and products available for our professional growth. I have been asked to present a "Virtual Tour" of our school and have chosen to do so by showcasing the incredible ways we are collaborating professionally and engaging all stakeholders using technology. As always you can keep up with what I'm learning since I'll be blogging the conference live and posting on Live From the Creek. This also happens to be the time I typically come up with the school theme for the upcoming year. What will the Hollywood hills inspire this time?????

Friday, January 22, 2010

My New Best Friend

For months my husband has been trying to convince me to get an iPhone. He jumped on the bandwagon right after they came out. I was a BlackBerry girl - and contrary to popular opinion - I am adverse to change. Really. He was ready to buy me one over a year ago and instead I opted for the BlackBerry Curve. Over the past year all my "crackberry" friends began dropping off and into an Apple world. Even though I don't relish change I am ususally ahead of most on the technology curve, not behind and around October I started noticing that my BB just wasn't cutting it. Over Winter Break this year I joyfully retired my BB and got the 3Gs!! Now I could kick myself repeatedly for EVER waiting this long. The iPhone is changing my life...literally! No more camera, iPod, phone all taking up valuable sapce in my purse, all my social networks are available at my fingertips, managing my calendar and email is a piece of cake, even my household grocery list has been revolutionized! I am thoroughly enjoying exploring all the possibilities and positively obsessed with finding great new apps. What are your favorites?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Random Streams of Consciousness and Kindness...Part 4

Last Saturday night I was startled by a phone call from our Standards Coach, Suzanne Shall, telling me that an apartment inside our attendance area was engulfed in flames. I immediately turned to the news to see a blazing fire destroying the homes of what I was sure belonged to a number of our families. We began to immediately try to make contact with the 3 faculty members who also live in the same apartments. Thankfully no one was hurt but 19 families lost everything. Six of those families have students who are currently attending our school. First thing Sunday morning we began researching which families lived in Building 13 and starting trying to make contact with them to find out how we could help. Shortly after the emails started coming from my incredible faculty and staff with offers of help and support. By the end of the day they were mobilized into a coordinated relief organization with our front desk receptionist, Julie Middleton, at the helm. On Monday items started pouring into the school for the families and our parents began asking how the could help. We were contacted by our Business Partners, Chick-fil-A and Chets Creek Church and by weeks end thousands of items had been made available for the families so that they could begin to rebuild their homes. It was an incredible reminder, yet again, of how the efforts of a united group can benefit others in extraordinary ways. I have been awed and humbled by the generosity of not only our Chets Creek faculty and staff but of the community as a whole.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Random Streams of Consciousness and Kindness Part 3...

Three days into our Winter Break and five days before Christmas my husband fell 10 ft. through our ceiling from the attic to the floor of our bedroom. He had to be transported by ambulance to our local hospital where they discovered his injuries included a compression fracture of one of the vertebrae in his back and two large, impassable, kidney stones that had become dislodged from his kidney on impact. By the time they were found they had caused an obstruction and his kidney was enlarged. They did vertebroplasty to seal the fractured bone, which worked perfectly. They did lithotripsy on the largest of the two stones and had to leave a stint in the ureter to keep it open until they can do lithotripsy again on the other stone this coming Monday. He was in the hospital up until the day before Christmas. He has been in physical therapy to work on rehabilitating his back almost daily and just this week they discovered he also broke one of his heels from the fall. He is getting a little better each day but still moves very slowly, requires a lot of assistance and is not able to drive. We feel very lucky as he could have been hurt so much worse.

Within minutes of the accident my families began to mobilize - I say families because I am fortunate enough to have more than one. I have my blood related one, my neighborly one and my school one. Your related family is required to love you, it certainly behoves your neighbors to like and get along with you but your colleagues are an entirely different matter. I know people who work in places where the people come and go each day, do their jobs, or not, and then go home. I do not work in one of those schools, and I am thankful everyday that I don't. At Chets Creek I am surrounded by a caring hard working group of people who love on each other and are there each and every time a family member is in need. I am experiencing the depth of their compassion as they have lifted me, my husband, my daughter and mother in law up with support and prayer.

Words will NEVER express the love and gratitude I have for each and every one of them. From the cards, texts, facebook messages, emails, visits and FOOD we have felt love and compassion that has touched us deeply and reminded us what life is really all about - family. I thank each of them for being a part of my family and for caring for us when we needed it most. The level of support shown during this difficult time has been paramount in helping us all heal. My blood related family counts my school family as one of our greatest blessings.