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Monday, April 25, 2011

Leadership & Student Achievement

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. — Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader

As I have been campaigning, there has been an interesting dialogue about all the good things happening in Portage Schools and the apparent disconnect that the Board is not satisfied with the performance of the superintendent.

The answer may be found in a 2007 Educational Research Service article by J. Timothy Waters and Robert Marzano called School District Leadership That Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement.

The authors found a statistically significant relationship between superintendent leadership and student achievement. Effective superintendents focus on creating goal-oriented districts.

But here is the catch. "By focusing on district goals that are unlikely to impact student achievement (like new building projects), a seemingly strong superintendent can have a minimal or even negative effect on student achievement".

Another important finding from the study suggests long term stability of a superintendent is a positive factor to student achievement. However, with an important caveat, "obviously assuming the superintendent is focused on the "right" priorities"!

The study found that the factor most significantly correlated to student achievement is the establishment of "Non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction". It has not been the practice for Portage Boards or superintendents to establish highly visible, district-wide, non-negotiable goals.

I believe this is what we must do. And I believe this current PPS Board is poised to begin this conversation. As we begin the difficult task of establishing our budget for next year, we must incorporate the four critical principles of this study:
- Establish non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
- Commit Board alignment and support to the goals
- Align resources in support of these goals
- Monitor the progress toward these goals.

As the study says, "we must ensure that these goals remain the top priorities in the district and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals".

Bottom line, Leadership matters.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 Assorted Community Comments

I'm glad you're running and am hopeful that the voters of Portage recognize your contributions. You are smart and pragmatic; detailed and big-picture. These are important issues that are seldom well balanced in public life. You take care. Janet

I am proud and happy to support all of you. I have to say to you, personally, that I believe you are just about the smartest person I know. You investigate all of the facts and figures, and present a case (whatever it is) that's well thought out for the benefit of everyone. I know that you've taken a lot of heat, and I wish there was a way to make others understand that if anyone is not making decisions based on emotions or personality conflicts, it would be you. Thanks for your courage and "thick skin". Terri

Melanie, I KNOW how hard it has been to get your concerns heard these past 4 years. I am very aware that the school system’s problems run far deeper than just “petty bickering amongst yourselves” and it’s been going on far too long. I voted for you for a reason. I would encourage you to “stay the course” in working to see our school system as a nationally ranked school system, rather than an “ok” school system. If that means tackling a controversial decision, then so be it. Do what needs to be done. It’s time. To say “Thank you” to you doesn’t really seem enough, but I appreciate your continued dedication to your position, to our school system and to my kid’s education. Jody

Thank you for your diligent and courageous commitment to address the tough issues facing Portage Public Schools. I encourage you to stay strong in your pursuit to do what is best for our present and future students, staff and community. Margie

Just wanted to shoot you a brief note and say thanks for all you have done and will do in the future for PPS. Kurt

I feel that people are being unfair to Melanie, due to the fact she is not a rubber stamp and goes along with everybody without asking questions. At least she is out looking for the best possible way to do things. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND QUESTIONS, MELANIE. Harry

Hello, Melanie. I watched the School Board Meeting. I thought you were right on target with your comments on accountability and choices. There are a lot of people counting on you to continue speaking for the tax payers. I am very impressed with the way you brought up the research you’ve done and the seminars you attend. I only hope the Superintendent will listen and act. Keep up the great work. Stan

Melanie Kurdys: I have to admit that I didn't vote for you before. But I've seen you work through this whole situation, and I'm convinced that you have the students' and taxpayers' best interests at heart. Yours is a thankless job at best, and you and the rest of your colleagues are to be commended for hanging in there.
Next election, you've got my vote. Ecomcon blogger

Melanie Kurdys has been "out there" and completely open and transparent about what she wants for the school district. If you don't like what she says, fine, vote against her. But don't throw around this "personal agenda" crap and try to smear her as unfit for the board. You folks are lucky to have someone who thinks for themselves and is not a rubber stamp for the administration. Most elected school boards--heck, most boards at any level--have a "go along with the herd" mentality and little courage to do what's right. That's why our governments at all levels are in such a mess. Truthavenger blogger

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 Impressive Leadershipt Traits

As a civic minded retiree, I am fortunate in knowing and interacting with people able to choose their lifestyle options. Traits I admire most in such folks include intelligence, community involvement, focus, dedication to principles and a spirit of generosity.
Melanie Kurdys impresses me as possessing these and other favorable characteristics. Her personal options could include staying home, family activities and lots of “fun for Melanie” stuff. Significantly, however, she gives both her time and energy to our community through her continued leadership with the Portage School Board, the Drug Task Force and numerous volunteer, advisory and steering involvements.
Being both a math major and executive, Melanie expects numbers to balance and the organization to operate effectively. As the mother of three graduates of Portage Schools, she adds a human dimension and a female perspective. Her leadership style is steadfast, of excellence, integrity and the courage of commitment. Concerned and informed citizens are urged to join me in voting for Melanie Kurdys, Portage School Board, 3 May 2011.
Robert El Henicky, Psychotherapist, Portage

Vote for KURDYS May 3....Letter in support

We in Portage have two very important items on the May ballot: the renewal of the county mileage, and filling 2 school board positions.

Renewing the county enhancement mileage will continue giving Portage three million dollars which supports instructional programs. Our vote on the board positions will indicate what kind of board we want.

I have been attending Portage School meetings for the past 4 years. I have witness the interaction of the members of the board as 3 elected members have resigned in the past 3 years. I have witness the change in how the current board members get along, respect each other, listen to others opinions, and are able to have open discussions. These are good, honest people who want only the best for PPS.

The school board trustees are elected to oversee their EMPLOYEE, “the superintendent, and expect accountability from this employee. If you or I, ignored a directive from our boss, we would be without a job and it is call “insubordination”. I think they are doing what I elected them to do: to monitor their employee, ask questions and expect answers. The board is being criticized for not letting the superintendent do her job, or are they advocating that the board not do its job? I hear that some in the community criticized the board for approving the $272,000 buyout for the superintendent’s mutually agreed upon resignation. If these community remembers are so concerned about the dollars spent, why are they trying to recall the board members and spend more of the districts money. I think it is time to stop the blaming, let the board operate openly, honestly and strive for accountability.

Vote to support our current Board, for incumbents, Kevin Hollenbeck and Melanie Kurdys.

Judith Santek, Portage, Mi

Monday, April 4, 2011

Does Michigan demonstrate a commitment to education in spending priorities?

You be the judge...Here are some facts... This table shows that even with the proposed reductions, Michigan's Education funding remains 34% of the total state spending and of that, 60% goes to K-12.

The top five spending categories in 2011 then 2012 including the percent of the total budget in Michigan, in order, are:

1) Education - $14.4 $13.8 34%

2) Health Svcs $14.1 $13.9 34% (87% is Medicaid)

3) Human Svcs $7.0 $6.9 17% (52% is Food)

4) Transportation $3.2 $3.4 8% (77% Roads & Bridges)

5) Corrections & Public Safety $2.5 $2.5 6%

Source-The Governor’s Budget

How much does the state spend on K-12 education? K-12 spending is the largest single component of the state budget. In fiscal year 2010, Michigan spent $13.0 billion to support K-12 programs. Meanwhile, spending for community colleges and higher education have both stayed relatively flat with a slight decline. Since 2000, K-12 spending has increased.

Why should community colleges get more money? A key component of Michigan’s education system, Michigan’s 28 community colleges provide over 480,000 residents per year with affordable access to postsecondary educational opportunities. The average annual college tuition for a full-time in-district student is approximately $2,400. These institutions offer general academic courses for students who intend to transfer to a four-year institution, as well as instruction in basic skills, technical training, and customized job training to prepare students for immediate employment.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Changing Socio-Economics in Portage

The poverty rate in Portage has increased over the last 10 years, from 4.8% to 9.1%. The percent of PPS students in the low socio-economic category has increased from 19% in 2007 to 24% in 2009. Since research shows a correlation between student achievement and socio-economic status, some have suggested flat test scores are a reasonable outcome of this change.

Although I do not believe poor children cannot learn or this outcome is reasonable, let’s assume for a moment that it is true. The premise would be that some number of poor children moved into PPS district from somewhere else making an impact on PPS achievement scores.

Here is a spreadsheet of my calculations on the change in the number of students in the low socio-economic group.

What this analysis shows is that PPS has approximately 400 more students considered low-socio-economic now than in the past. This represents about 5% of our student population, which could impact our academic achievement outcomes by as much as 5%. So looking at our MEAP scores, we could be 5% higher in any category if you follow this logic.

But here is where the logic breaks down. This scenario assumes we lost 550 students between 2007 and 2010, and gained 400 students, all of whom were in the low SES category! This is incredibly unlikely. To be absolutely certain, we would need to verify the transience data within our district, information not readily available.

What is much more likely is that some significant number of families in Portage suffered economic distress in the last couple years which changed their status. And I for one do not believe that our kids become less able to learn just because mom or dad lost their job. Of course, a job loss is a significant negative impact on families and we need to do all we can to provide support to our students. But for anyone to suggest that families’ lose their commitment to their children’s education simply because they suffer an economic setback, well, that just does not make sense to me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 A letter to voters

Dear Concerned Citizen and Taxpayer,
There is an important election coming up on May 3. The question for you, an informed voter in Portage, is “Who should lead Portage Public Schools during these challenging times?”. Expectations for student achievement are high while funding remains flat or falling. If you want Board members who are:
- Visionary in setting a direction of excellence for our district
- Fiscally responsible, spending every dollar as if it were their own
- Able to hold administrators accountable
- Willing to be accountable to YOU

I am your candidate. This is not campaign rhetoric. Over the last four years, I have demonstrated my commitment to these exact points:
- Called “unrealistic” to expect that all children can learn
- Named “the self-appointed fiscal watchdog” by the Gazette
- Voted to change leadership despite political fallout
- Analyzed student achievement to highlight areas of improvement

I believe the School Board holds the administration accountable for achieving the highest levels of educational outcomes for every tax dollar we pay.

Portage is a very good school district, but we know from community surveys and focus groups that our community expects more. We must teach all our children to read. To expect less means giving up on the over 2000 (20%)of Portage children who cannot read at grade level. We can not rest on our laurels.
What do we need to do? We must:
- Believe that all children can learn at high levels and teaching all is our moral obligation
- Maintain open communication with teachers around resource
allocation to effectively deliver results
- Systemically engage parents as partners in decision making for
their children and for their schools

PPS can become a place where our children can become all they want and more than they imagine.