Monday, October 14, 2013

Dr. King: We Can Do This Together

Dear Dr. King,

About a year ago I wrote you a letter asking that you begin a conversation about the current landscape of public education in New York State. I was hoping that you would hear the concerns of the masses and reconsider some of the initiatives, plans and changes you were implementing with little feedback from those impacted most - our educators, families and students. Unfortunately, you never responded to that letter and you continued unfolding changes to the way we teach and learn here in NYS.

One of the biggest changes was the way that we evaluate educators. For example, I was rated a 9 out of 20 (the value added piece) according to your office based on the growth my kids exhibited on the state tests (which were totally different from last year so how they could be compared makes NO sense to me but whatever) yet the people who supervise me directly rated me a 59.5 out of 60 and last month I was honored with the Bammy Award for Elementary Principal of the Year for the entire country - somehow that doesn’t add up to a 9 out of 20 from my perspective, but what do I know? Can you please share the research that supports the value added method as an effective way to evaluate educators? I would love to be able to share that with our staff so they can begin buying into the idea. One of the things I know about effective leadership is that there must be a singular vision that everyone believes in and embraces if there is going to be growth and sustained change. You may want to consider this moving forward because it may change the way you are received by the masses or the “special interest groups.”

You have also started impacting the way we instruct students. Even though the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are supposed to inform us in regards to WHAT skills our kids need to have to be college and career ready no where in the mission statement of the CCSS do they mention HOW we should teach kids and with WHAT we should teach kids - they do not promote a "Common Core Curriculum." Yet, with all the “suggested” modules shared on the Engage NY site, which you reference almost every time you speak, the implication is that you do believe that a “one size fits all” curriculum rooted in similar instructional strategies and approaches is the way to go. Can you please show me the research that supports a “one size fits all” model as an effective approach so I can share that with our families so they can buy into that idea? I want to make sure that moving forward we will treat every child the same and instruct them in the exact same way. You see, that would be very different from the way we currently do things at Cantiague. We have devoted our time at Cantiague focusing on differentiating instruction with an emphasis on 1:1 conferences and small groups; we have also dedicated ourselves to meeting the needs of every child; and we have made it a point to create a happy and positive environment for children so they can feel good about themselves, which in turn allows kids to avail themselves to learning. These are the things that we believe in at Cantiague and they don't seem to be aligned to the ideas espoused behind a “one size fits all” instructional approach but with the studies and research you provide us, I am sure we can start convincing the community that a "Common Core Curriculum" is the best approach.  

Yes, the list of changes can go on but we all know what they are and they have not been received in the most positive way. With that being said, I believe you can still change the current landscape of public education - we can do it together! Call me idealistic, but I think you were on the path to changing the game until the plan imploded.  Recently there was a glimmer of hope because I heard you were going to be hosting Town Hall Meetings in conjunction with the PTA throughout the state to give our families a voice in this process - AWESOME! Our families, who are the primary advocates for our children, need to have a voice and better understanding of the current state of public education in NY so they can stand behind the vision after being assured it is in the best interest of children. But, as we all know now, you have cancelled those Town Hall sessions after the first one didn’t unfold in a positive way. After watching portions on YouTube I will say that I am disappointed in the way some of the people in the audience conducted themselves and the mob mentality that almost took over the space wasn’t productive in the end but you see Dr. King, I completely understand why that happened - I could have been any one of those people in the audience - any one of those parents or educators. I understand why people got angry; I understand why people voiced their frustrations; I understand the passion that permeated the room; I understand why people shouted at you and pushed you for change. The answer is quite simple… it is all about our kids.

Although I cannot speak for every parent or educator in New York State, I can speak for myself and what I can say is that I am having a hard time understanding that all of the changes that have been implemented in New York State are actually in the best interest of kids. How is testing kids for hours on end in their best interest? How is stressing kids out about a state test in their best interest? How are the curriculum modules on Engage NY in the best interest of kids? How is a “one size fits all” instructional approach in the best interest of kids? How is evaluating our teachers and principals on student state test scores in the best interest of kids? How is reducing our kids to a number in their best interest? These are just some of the questions I have because if you can explain how all the changes you have implemented are in the best interest of kids and can support those changes with sound educational research and theory then I will be a believer… a supporter… a voice for change. But until then, I am just a concerned educator. I am just a building principal trying to do what is best for our entire community. I am just a dad trying to rekindle my son’s love for school and learning because at this point it is almost gone thanks to the “pressures” of school.

Dr. King, even though I am frustrated and disappointed about the state of education today in NY, I am still rather quixotic by nature. I tend to see the glass as half full. I believe there is still hope. I believe we can still change things for the better. I believe we can do this together. I don’t know anything about being the Commissioner of Education here in NY but I do know something about public education and with over eight years experience, I know something about educational leadership. Effective educational leaders listen to all members of the community because they deserve to be heard even if their voice doesn’t end up impacting change. Effective educational leaders take constructive feedback and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Effective educational leaders don’t take things personally. Effective educational leaders do things for their students that they would do for their own children. Effective educational leaders work diligently to ensure that their vision becomes the vision of every member of the community. Effective educational leaders lead with their heart and mind - the people being led need to feel valued, respected and appreciated as integral assets to the organization. Effective educational leaders earn the trust of those around them because they are transparent in their actions and beliefs. Effective educational leaders have one goal - doing what is in the best interest of children.

Dr. King, I submit these traits of an effective educational leader not because I doubt that they are part of your skill set but because I can assure you, from my perspective, it doesn’t seem that you are accessing them to help you bring about the change you envision for public education here in NYS. The masses don’t seem to be supporting you Dr. King and if you are going to change things you need their support; you need the masses to believe they have a voice in this process; and you need the masses to believe that everything you are doing is in the best interest of children. We can do this together Dr. King because I, for one, believe in public education. I believe in our educators. I believe in our families. I believe in our kids. Please show us all that you believe too.

Sincerely,

Tony Sinanis
Dad to an AMAZING 4th Grader
Lead Learner Cantiague Elementary School
Elementary School Principal of the Year
Doctoral Student at University of Pennsylvania  

4 comments:

  1. Well said Tony!!!

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  2. If Tony Sinanis gets 9 out of 20, the grading curve is quite skewed. He is the most impressive administrator and educator I have ever dealt with. Hard to win a game if you change the rules without telling the participants.

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    1. Ask any parent or student... Tony's rating is easily 1000 out of a 100. When I say the name Mr. Sinanis, my daughter's face lights up like a Christmas tree.

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  3. Thanks for this powerful, well-articulated stand, and for exemplifying what it means to be a leader. How I wish that more people were willing to stand and be counted. The views that you express are widely shared behind the scenes. They need to be flown from banners for all to see.

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