Thursday, December 19, 2013

21st Century Skills

One of the most provocative and relevant concepts in current education is the notion of 21st Century Skills. The term refers to a set of skills, knowledge and expertise that many educators believe students need to be successful in work and life today. If you "google" the term, your search will direct you to a number of different websites that discuss the topic. No two lists of 21st Century Skills are identical, but there is broad agreement.

Gaston Day embraces many of the goals of the 21st Century Skills Movement. I will be discussing the main elements of 21st Century Skills in my next several blogs. My information is largely taken from "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills" website, which identifies four main categories of 21st Century Skills: 1) Core Subjects (3Rs) and Other 21st Century Interdisciplinary Themes; 2) Learning and Innovation Skills; 3) Information, Media and Technology Skills;
and 4) Life and Career Skills. This blog will focus on the first category.

Here is the list of core subjects:

* English, Reading or Language Arts
* Arts
* Mathematics
* Economics
* Science
* Geography
* History
* Government and Civics

Gaston Day teaches all of these core subjects, with the exception of Economics. From the school's perspective, however, it is not enough to master these disciplines in isolation. As educators, our goal has to be to enable students to make important connections between separate subjects and apply what they learn to other areas.

In addition to the core subjects, 21st Century Skills add four interdisciplinary themes to the core:
1) Global Awareness; 2) Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy; 3) Civic Literacy; and 4) Health Literacy. These themes integrate knowledge and learning from many fields into these four basic areas. Global Awareness promotes the understanding of different nations and cultures, including those that are non-English speaking. Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy develops personal finances and a knowledge of larger economic systems. Civic Literacy involves staying informed on and understanding governmental processes and upholding civic obligations at the local, state, national and global levels. Health Literacy includes staying healthy personally and supporting health initiatives both at home and abroad.

My next blog will discuss Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. Also, I want to discuss how 21st Century Skills influence learning at Gaston Day. Please stay tuned.


Monday, November 18, 2013

The Excitement of the Strategic Plan

Those of you who attended Parents Night earlier this fall heard about our new strategic plan. Every five years Gaston Day School completes a new Strategic Plan. Because it helps us prepare, we schedule this to happen a year before we enter the re-accrediting process with the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). This time, our strategic planning process was different than in the past as we hired Independent School Management (ISM), the nation's leading consultant to independent schools, to assist us. The results were remarkable. ISM surveys revealed that Gaston Day families are extremely pleased with the school and willing to invest more in school improvement. The Strategic Plan outlines the major initiatives that we are undertaking to provide our students with the best education possible and fulfill the wishes of our parents.
Our number one priority is to triple the continuing education budget for our faculty. When faculty have the opportunity to learn more about something that interests them, they bring their new knowledge and a contagious enthusiasm back to school. Student and fellow colleagues benefit from their new insights. The entire culture becomes energized. As more faculty members pursue new continuing education opportunities each year, the excitement becomes a continuous feature of school life.
Another priority is to raise faculty salaries so we can hire and retain the best faculty. We want to compensate our teachers well so they can do what they love and earn a decent living.
Several items in the Strategic Plan were already underway before the consultant arrived. The iPad initiative has already put personal computers in the hands of the middle and upper school faculty. We will supply our upper and middle school students with iPads over the next two years. Additionally, Kim Schneider has been promoted to a new position as Director of Instructional Technology. Ms. Schneider is doing a wonderful job training our faculty on ways to use technology in teaching.
The new security system was also planned before we began our formal strategic planning. The new remote access cards and locked door are now in place. The system has been installed and is operating with a minimum of disturbance to the school. Gaston Day School is safer and more secure.
Other elements of the Strategic Plan will be completed over the next several years. We will be hiring a part-time guidance counselor next year and a Dean of Students (responsible for student discipline and student life outside the classroom) the following year for the middle and upper schools. In three years, we will add a second floor above the lower dining hall to create more classroom space. With waiting lists growing in many grades, the additional space will allow us to increase enrollment.
All these plans and initiatives presume and depend upon achieving reasonable enrollment goals. The Strategic Plan has created an enormous sense of optimism and momentum among Gaston Day faculty and staff. We are so excited to be making the school even better for your children. Thank you so much, Gaston Day Community, for your vision and support for the Strategic Plan. We can hardly wait to make it all happen!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heading to a State Playoff Soccer Game in Asheville

The varsity boys soccer team plays away against Asheville Christian School today (October, 18, 2013) at 3:45 pm in the first round of the state playoffs, and I will be there. There was no soccer team when I attended Gaston Day--football was the big sport. My son Isaac played here from 2003-2007 and watching him converted me into a fan. Soccer has become one of my favorite school sports.
With thirteen years under my belt, I suspect I have seen more Gaston Day soccer games than anyone else. My memories of great players and teams are rich. I remember .... when Austin McGovern, with his back to the opponent's goal and about ten yards out, perfectly timed a backward somersault sending his foot toward the sky and his head toward the ground in order to kick a rebounding ball back into the goal like it had been shot out of a cannon (you had to see it to believe it)... when Isaac launched a shot from mid field at Highland Tech that sailed more than fifty yards through the air like a spear into the upper left hand corner of the net... when Andrew Groff routinely sliced through the defense and approached the opposing goalie with a steely mercilessness and an utter confidence just before he sent the ball like a laser into the back of the net... when defender Joey Sloand regularly met the ball of an oncoming dribbler with such force that the opponent fell down, and Joey headed almost uninterrupted toward the opposing goal with the ball... when Charlie Bridger dramatically delivered in overtime a perfect, arching shot from thirty-five yards out and near the sideline to send us to the final four two years ago.... when an unsportsmanlike opponent gave younger brother Conrad Sloand a cheap shot and Joey raced to the rescue from the other end of the field, screaming "don't you ever do that to my brother!!!!" All of these are indelible.
Both the girls and boys soccer programs here are strong. Coach Greg Lekavich and Assistant Coach John Nussbaumer inherited a solid program from Coach Kevin Sims, their predecessor. Lekavich and Nussbaumer have made the soccer program great. The level of competition has become stiffer as Gaston Day has grown and moved to the higher 2A state independent school athletic classification. Greg and John have compiled an extraordinary record over the last six years winning over 80% of our boys soccer games. We are perennial conference champions. Two years ago we made it to the final four in the state playoffs. Last year we won the Gazette Cup against all other Gaston County public schools. This year we have achieved another remarkable record and are back in the playoffs.
Our path in the playoffs is challenging. We are the 12th and last ceded team. The top four cedes get a first-round bye. So our opponent today is the 5th cede. However, the entire playoff field is remarkably even. Gaston Day has a legitimate shot to win it all. We could also lose today, and our season is over. If we win, we go to the elite eight. If we win today and three more games against the best competition in the state, we will be state champions. This is part of the excitement for me. Anything is possible. My son Isaac, who is an administrator now at Christ School (outside Asheville) and a former All-State soccer player at Gaston Day, will join me at the game. I know this sounds cliché, but when I step onto the sidelines today to cheer on the Spartans, time will almost stop and I will lose myself completely in the competitive drama.
What a joy it is to see wonderful athletes who I have watched grow to greatness!! Jake Rowe who dribbles so beautifully and elusively. Conrad Sloand who stunningly combines speed, skill and heart. William Rhyne whose breathtaking speed and determination have turned him into a exceptional soccer player as a senior. Charlie Manolakis who anchors the defense, always making the smart decision and delivering precise passes. Steven Manolakis who matches Conrad's speed and skill. Harrison Romero who is simply brilliant and cat-like as goal keeper.
As I write this blog, it is 4 hours until game time. I will leave for Asheville in less than 2 hours. It is a beautiful fall day. Can you tell I am ready for a tremendous game?
What kind of day is it today? It is a great day to be a Spartan!!
Go, Spartans, Go!!!!
GDS Athletic Department Motto: "Team before Self. Tireless Preparation. Fierce in Competition."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jim McRainey's Exhibit and Interview: A Personal Display of Patriotic Service in the US Army-Air Corp During World War II

Former Gaston Day parent, Jim McRainey, is exhibiting memorabilia in the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Art Center Lobby from his combat service as the co-pilot of a B-17 for 35 missions in the European theatre of World War II. On Tuesday, September 10, at 5:00 pm, Gaston Day School invited the public to a reception for Mr. McRainey, and I interviewed him about his service. About thirty-five citizens and school community members attended. Librarian Karen Ellison beautifully planned and presided at the event. Rick Fischer helped set up the exhibit and provided patriotic music.
Jim McRainey's story of military service is fascinating and inspiring. While he survived the war without physical injury, over half of the B-17 airmen were either killed or wounded. Over 26,000 airmen were killed in the European theatre, more than the entire death total for the Marine Corps during World War II. The human cost was simply staggering. Jim McRainey is fortunate to be alive.
Jim's memory is phenomenal, and he is a superb storyteller. He recreated the excitement and the incredible danger involved in a mission. German fighter planes attacked "like hornets," and German  ground forces sent up sheets of anti-aircraft fire from below. We were all on the edge of our seats as we listened to some of his most harrowing missions. I could not help but think that what he and other airmen experienced was almost beyond the limits of human endurance. Jim McRainey has been to a hellish place to perform his duty faithfully and well. Thank you, Jim, and so many other veterans.
Jim and I regularly attend and have become friends at a Wednesday morning prayer breakfast at First Presbyterian, Gastonia. His wife Madrie served as one of Gaston Day School's first reading specialists in the 1970s. Their son Steve was my schoolmate and teammate here. At prayer breakfast, Jim shared some of his war-time experiences and conceived the exhibit. There are several benefits to the school. First, the maps, airplane models, and war documents make history come alive. Second, the exhibit reminds us of the enormous sacrifice that others have made so that we can enjoy the blessings and the freedom of living in the United States.
I am so proud that Jim's personal story of valor and bravery is displayed here. His example is inspiring and humbling. We must do our best to preserve and enlarge the patriotic legacy that he and others have left us. Instilling patriotic values in our students is an important part of Gaston Day School's mission. Please come see Jim McRainey's exhibit in the PKW Lobby.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Springtime at Gaston Day School

Although the weather has turned cold, it is officially springtime. In the woods behind the school on the cross country trail, the first buds are appearing on the trees. Soon birds will be nesting and rabbits and squirrels will be raising their young. Over my thirteen years here, I have come to recognize a number of animals that are regular occupants of the campus. Have any of you noticed the mockingbird that lives in front of the Williams S. Henry Family Academic Center? He spends most of his time between the gazebo and the maple tree in front of the main entrance to the  William S. Henry Academic Center. I don't know the life expectancy of a mockingbird. But our mockingbird has been here at least thirteen years. He is either the same bird or an offspring of the original.
There are other animals that share this space with us. There is a chipmunk that often scampers out from under the gazebo between the William S. Henry Academic Center and the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center. There is a pair of red tailed hawks that inhabits the woods behind the school. There are several cottontail rabbits on campus that--no doubt--are prey for the hawks. Then there is a small hole in the bricks in that part of the William S. Henry Academic Center above the Art Room and below the back west entrance that is home to nesting starlings every spring.

Several unusual animal encounters have happened over the last several years. Probably the most dramatic was the whitetail deer--a buck with cow horns--that came onto campus one morning several years ago. Officer Jack Brown and I were just finishing morning carpool duty when we heard a racket in front of the Pamela Kimbrell Visual and Performing Arts Center (PKW). The large deer wandered into the courtyard and became frightened. He jumped several times into the glass windows in the front of the PKW and left a bloody smear on both sides of the front door. Finally realizing how to escape, he ran down the main road in front of the school and within ten yards of Officer Brown and me. His eyes were wild with fear as he made fast tracks east.

Then there was another time that Hal Carpenter found an active bee hive in one of the exterior walls of the PKW. Luckily, the colony swarmed off before we had to exterminate them. We were concerned that they might sting students walking nearby.

The most famous animal on campus was domesticated: Ned the rooster. Ned wandered onto campus from the property next door to our west. For at least a year, he was a regular fixture around campus. Kristin Paxton-Shaw and Liz Minor then began to feed him regularly, reinforcing his fondness for Gaston Day. Ned became something of a GDS icon, inspiring paintings and bumper stickers. Eventually, his owner relocated him to a distant farm because he was in danger of being hit by a car.
Wildlife is likely to remain a fixture of campus life. Gaston Day School, the Gaston Municipal Airport, and the Gaston Country Club together form a wildlife refuge of several hundred acres. Wild turkeys are seen frequently on the Country Club Golf Course. Wildlife moves easily between the three properties and, consequently, Gaston Day shares this space with a variety of other creatures. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Head's Report January 2013

At each board meeting, I present a report. I am sharing most of my January Head's report in this blog. I think it contains important school news and information.

I.                 Enrollment Report and Admission Outlook.

Current enrollment is 497 students as compared to 508 on the same date last year and 485 on the same date 2011. Our inquiries to date for 2012-2013 are 135, seven ahead of the same period last year. Greg Rainey, Head of Upper and Middle Schools, has completed a preliminary assessment of attrition for next year. He believes it will much lower than last year and return to something nearer the historic average (12%). It is still very early, but so far our inquiries are strong. Last year was one of the best enrollment years ever at Gaston Day—so if our inquiries stay the same or better than last year, and attrition returns to the lower numbers we have seen historically, we should have a strong enrollment year.
II.              Academics
We are having excellent years in all three academic divisions. Marianna Davis, Jennifer Newcombe, and Greg Rainey are providing strong leadership. I am particularly pleased with Mr. Rainey’s vision for Middle and Upper Schools, which includes hand-held technology for every student in two years, more Asian international students, and a stronger branding program for Gaston Day.

Because Pre-School enrollment was down this year, Mrs. Davis has initiated a discussion of pricing strategies, current financial aid policy, and length-of-day options with David Fleenor, Martha Jayne Rhyne and me.

I continue to explore opportunities for cooperation with Spartanburg Day School and its new Head of School Rachel Deems.
III.            Campus Security

We held a security forum on January 17, 2013, open to the entire Gaston Day community. There were twenty-one families in attendance and, when combined, about the same number of trustees, administrators, and faculty. I described our campus presently as open and under surveillance by Officer Jack Brown. I also reported that I had met first with Capt. Steve Jentsch, Gaston County Police, and then Capt. Bill Melton, Gaston County Police (Special Responsibilities for School Safety) to discuss ways to make Gaston Day safer.

Board Chair Tim Efird then talked about the timeline and process for making improvements in school security.

For approximately 45-60 minutes, we then fielded question from the audience. These questions were civil and helpful. Opinions about increasing campus security and restricting the openness of campus were mixed, but the majority of those who spoke wanted more security. A few were adamant that changes must come quickly.

As of January 22, 2013, Gaston Day School has begun locking more of its exterior doors after 8:15 am to improve security and limit access. We also are ordering new name badges for teachers and staff as part of a comprehensive effort to identify campus visitors and have them all check in at the front desk when they arrive on campus.

I will continue to work with the County Police and City Police over the next month to develop a set of recommendation for the Executive Committee. Because these recommendations may change the character of the school, I feel that any decision must involve the Executive Committee.
IV.           ISM Consultation

Independent School Management (ISM) is gathering data from the school and surveying relevant school administrators and board members in preparation for their campus visit, February 9-11, and as part of the new Strategic Plan.

V.              Annual Fund

The annual fund is $20,000 ahead of where it was at the same time last year. Director of Development Liz Minor believes that this is a result of increased giving, not early giving.

VI.            Food Service Sales

Flik continues to provide good food and sales remain stable. We anticipate that we will have to pay the whole $24,000 management fee, which is the maximum loss we are bound to contractually. 

IX.           Technology

Gaston Day faces several technology challenges, which all can be met successfully. First, 64 of our personal computers are XP’s and need to be replaced. I recommend that we add $100 technology fee to the general fee. These funds will be used to replace outdated hardware with newer equipment.

Second, as I said in my last report, Gaston Day School must embrace “21st Century Education,” a buzzword for bring technology into the classroom and using it to make teaching relevant to our students. The classroom must reflect the new reality in technology.

XI.            Insurance Renewal
            Blue Cross and Blue Shield has offered Gaston Day a renewal of our major medical insurancecoverage with no increase in cost. Part of the reason for the favorable rate is the success of our wellness program. We are healthier. After salaries and payroll taxes, insurance is our third largest expense. This is fantastic news.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Differentiated Instruction

Over the last two years, Gaston Day School's teachers have devoted two work days toward "differentiated instruction." At the most basic level, differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that creates a classroom where all students can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability or learning style. Differentiated instruction presents material in different ways and at different paces so that every student can realize their maximum learning potential.

Two teaching consultants, Judy Rhoads and Carolyn Coil, led separate workshops at Gaston Day last winter and this fall. Rhoads and Coil belong to the Creative Learning Consultants, an educational consulting team headquartered in Marion, Illinois. Both are veteran educators with extensive practical training and theoretical mastery. Rhoads presented "Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom" last February to the Lower School, Learning Academy and Fifth/Sixth Grade Teams. She began her presentation with an assessment of how much our teachers are already using differentiated instruction. She next examined how using learning profiles for individual students can help teachers customize instruction to fit the particular makeup of their classroom. Finally, Rhoads gave our teachers a number of examples of ways to prepare differentiated lesson and unit plans for their classrooms.

Coil presented on the same topic last October in separate sessions with the Lower School and the Middle and Upper Schools. Coil discussed the following: 1) "flexible groupings"-- different ways to organize students into smaller groups within a classroom to maximize learning; 2) "curriculum compacting"--which gives students different choices in the ways in which they learn and demonstrate mastery of classroom material; and 3) "tiered lessons"--which allows students with different abilities to move at their maximum learning pace.

Why is it important to emphasize "differentiated instruction" at Gaston Day? The answer is so every student can learn as much as possible. Because no two students learn in the same way, great teaching must appreciate and address individual differences in learning style. Because no two students learn at the same speed, great teaching must recognizes and allow students to learn at different paces.

Good teachers have always unconsciously practiced differentiated instruction. In addition,Gaston Day has several programs that support differentiated instruction. The Learning Academy provides differentiated instruction for students facing learning hurdles and challenges. The three different upper school academic tracks--college prep, honors, and AP--is a way of clustering students into groups to maximize learning. But Gaston Day School wants to make differentiated instruction more deliberate and conscious. We particularly think differentiated instruction is important for our high-end learners in middle school. Differentiated instruction liberates our most advanced students to learn more.

The recent emphasis on differentiated instruction supports three of Gaston Day School's core beliefs. First, it is student centered. Second, it is a way of promoting teaching excellence by continuing to educate our faculty into best teaching practice. Finally, it reflects our commitment to having a challenging and relevant curriculum. Gaston Day School endorses differentiated instruction because it helps every student learn as much as possible in a way best suited to their individual learning style.