Giving Thanks at New Providence STEM Superintendent Forum

school district leadership stem superintendent forum

School district leadership was thanked for New Providence’s initiatives during the STEM Superintendent Forum on November 14, 2017.

Be in the room where it happens

The value of being in the room during the Superintendent Forums is tremendous.  Each starts with a short presentation.  Then parents asked questions. Administrators, teachers and Board of Education (BOE) members answer. Our Superintendent facilitates.  Having different ages and perspectives inevitably broadens understanding and builds consensus. Because the format is less formal than BOE meetings, conversations are real and detailed.   In my 14 years in district I’ve seen strategy closely follow the spirit of these conversations.  This has built trust and good will between stake holders.

Appreciation for new STEM curriculum and referendum-funded spaces

Attendees expressed heartfelt appreciation for the changes which have been made in the last few years. See Our School’s STEM in the Fall 2017.

  • Changes in culture such as breaking down the silos between subjects and helping kids be comfortable with failure.
  • New curriculum, opportunities incorporating project-based learning classes and standards. Most important are changes in mindset and how certain aspects are being implemented
  • New spaces funded by the Bond referendum
  • Other school districts are looking to us for leadership, especially at the elementary school level.
  • STEM rooms makes it much easier for us to host STEM competitions.

More specifics are shared in public meetings but not in writing.   Strategy specifics are the intellectual capital that keeps our schools strong and our real estate values high.

My cohorts’ ideas are included, but my kids have graduated and left the district.  What would benefit your kids? Before reading further stop and jot down your ideas.  Share them.

Vision 2015 – 2020 is a 5 year progressive Program

We are rolling out our new STEM strategy as part of a 5 year progressive program.  We started at high school since those students graduating. Then moving younger so all get it over the course of their K-12 education. Changes were broken out by school.  Many high school changes have been made.  Middle school changes are being rolled out this year. Planning for elementary school is beginning.

There were many ideas to strengthen our STEM Ecosystem in and out of school.  To my surprise the K-2 parents seem to be particularly active in looking for after school options. There is an opportunity for the community to fill in the gap while waiting for the district to roll programs out to the youngest.  Everyone values continued school district leadership, including about after school curriculums.

We are a general school not a STEM school.

BOE looks at our entire curriculum.  Understanding the big picture requires looking at K-12 education as a marathon not a sprint.  Start at the top down.  High school is their last chance to get the new opportunities.  We have made great strides with the limited time we have had.  When we add programs we take away from somewhere else.  Enrollment has increased. There are more state mandated courses over which we have very little control.  Our budget is 70-80% fixed for salaries.  Not everyone can afford increases in taxes so we have to balance it out.

We look for great things – not experimental.  Has anyone used it before?  STEM has taken off.

In 2015 the conversation started with the community.  The BOE started it earlier.  What do colleges want?  Before STEM was the big topic everyone wanted world languages at the elementary school age. Understanding a global viewpoint at a young age still has value.  So do the arts.

Personally, I think School Scheduling Can Work Harder for New Providence.  It should enable high school students to fit in electives like music that have been crowded out of many high school schedules by state mandates.

Action Items: STEM Superintendents Forum

How do parents help with continued school district leadership?  Detailed discussion all came back to:

1. Use our existing channels – your school’s Parent-Teacher & Booster Groups.

They value your time, your treasure, and your ideas.

2. Come to a meeting –

  • Each School’s Parent – Teacher group meets monthly
  • Superintendent & Principal Forums – posted on district and school home pages
  • Board of Education Meetings – many are sparsely attended.  Schedule here.
  • Town Council meetings and borough departments
  • Facebook groups – New Providence STEM if you are in town. STEMshoots for broader issues.

3. Become a member of your school’s Parent – Teacher & Booster Groups!

“We need to do a push for the parents to join the PTA.”   It helps the school.  “Many people feel I pay so much in taxes that I’m not paying another dollar to the schools.”  Each PTA or booster group only meets once a month. “It is all about the kids and the teachers.”

All these groups are partners with the district and are aligned with the district.  Your money is utilized to support and is aligned with the district’s missions.  The support groups make a huge difference.

Elementary teachers get $75 to set up their classroom.  $150 mini grants go directly back to the classrooms.   Several authors are coming in to elementary school libraries.  We wouldn’t have these programs if it wasn’t for the $10 PTA membership we all pay.    “It all goes hand in hand.”  It is all about the kids.

But….

By high school PTSA, PTA and Band Wagon, membership is way, way down.  People are not stepping up and and volunteering their time and finances.   Only ~150 out of ~750 high school families have joined.  Your $15 membership (NPHS PTSA) enables many teacher grants.

Sometimes we hear older parents say “I attended a PTA meeting years ago and my idea didn’t catch on.  I haven’t attended since.”  Sometimes we parents have to show grit as well. For example, we spent 10 months meeting with folks and revising that scheduling article. Eventually we shared it with parents through the high school PTSA Facebook group. If you see an opportunity, then someone else may as well.

JOIN THE PTA and stay involved!

4. Donate to NPEF, Parent – Teacher, and booster groups

Our PTA’s, PTO’s, PTSA, music & athletic boosters contribute substantially each year. (Hereafter PTA’s)  Support groups have paid a great deal towards enhancements.  It is a big help to the district’s annual budget.

Fund raising – if a staff member is excited about a innovative project then they could also fund it through the New Providence Education Foundation (NPEF).  Several grants a year are for STEM like these technology grants.  In contrast PTA grants tend to be for fewer dollars. 

My favorite NPEF website feature is “Grants in Action.” It enables you to explore every grant funded by year, school, subject and type.  When I left NPEF’s board several years ago, NPEF had already raised well over $1,000,000 for our kids.  Also, NPEF’s annual mailer lists the last year’s grants. 

5. Share ideas with staff.

If they get interested, then they can apply to NPEF, PTA/PTO/PTSA or booster club for a grant.

Find like minded parents with kids of similar ages and share ideas, in person or online.  Form a STEM committee for your PTA.

6. Strengthen our community’s STEM Ecosystem

Forum attendees clearly valued the District’s ongoing leadership in STEM.  They also realize that after school, family and community providers are also important.  Getting a room for First Lego League Jr. groups has been a challenge. They understand STEM Ecosystems: A Movement You Need to Be Part Of.  Perhaps strengthening our community’s Ecosystem is our next frontier…

School District Leadership – Please speak up, repeatedly.

Paraphrasing a wise man.

There is not a lot that we don’t get done that parents really want.  Ask for it and ask multiple times.  Please don’t be shy.  Please speak up, repeatedly.  Ask us.” [The BOE, your principal, our superintendent, our town council.]

What is on your STEM wish list?

Cecile Seth

Trying to make our world better. Mom to 3. Recovering Management Consultant. MBA. STEMshoots.com Founder.

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