Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Good – #112Leads

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Schools in North Shore School District 112 are poised to welcome students and staff in less than one month. The first day for staff members is August 31 and the first day for students is September 3. This is not a normal back to school situation. Folks are not excited like they usually are. Folks are not eagerly awaiting the happy return to “normal”. Thanks to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19, there is no return to normal, and while we make every effort to be upbeat and optimistic, we’re not really “happy” right now.

In March 2020 our world changed in public schooling. The places where we facilitate learning, brick and mortar school buildings, were shut. Closed to students and staff, closed to learning and socializing. Closed to one of the foundational and fundamental cores of American culture. In-person learning and teaching is what we were all trained for. In-person schooling is all we have known since the one-room schoolhouses of the pioneer days. We know school … we know “normal”. We know our routines. Actually, we knew our routines. Nothing is like it used to be.

Just like that in March 2020, we stopped going to school. We stopped holding classes, clubs, sports, plays, musicals. It all just stopped. From March to June we just sort of hobbled through the crisis with society shutting around us. With jobs vaporizing. With socializing coming to an end – we just sort of “locked down”. Just like that – all that we knew came to a crashing halt. An end with little clear explanation. An end with little understanding. An end with little normalcy.

The school year ended in June. Then summer came and we as Americans are usually an optimistic lot … we looked for fun … but the 4th of July was pretty much canceled. Camps were scaled back. Recreation was frowned upon. Summer school was remote. Uh, what happened to our world? What happened to our society? Summer was not really summer … again, where was the happy recreation that we knew so well? It was gone too – just like normal schooling.

The fall back to school is always a fun, exciting, invigorating, and economy-boosting time … but not this year. This year it’s anxiety-provoking, uncertain, defeating, scary, and anything but normal. Not that we want to be normal or return to normal anyway … but what is happening? We close the schools in March – we’re opening again in September – right? Well, sort of. Not exactly, you see, the virus is still here. National leadership is absent, state by state leadership is mixed, we’re pretty much like we were as a people like we were during the Articles of Confederation. A fledgling nation with a rudderless ship and no real agreements at all. What happened?! We the people … in order to form a more perfect union — wait, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good …

I’m not even writing about the revolutionary call for an end to racism and a call to arms for anti-racism. The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minnesota roused to anger, despair, and energy of our nation and the world against injustice. This was all going on with the pandemic in the background.

I’m not writing about the complete and total failure of national leadership on putting forth a coherent plan or strategy to combat COVID-19/Coronavirus. I’m not writing about the begging that leaders like I have to engage in so state and local health officials will release/share/explain science and metrics. Public school leaders making community-based decisions about public health should expect – no should demand – no should be entitled to – guidance, coherence, and leadership from public health leaders – right?

At least we have local control in Illinois. School districts are governed by seven community members — UNPAID volunteers — who oversee the public trust, public funds, and professional staff in facilitating learning and teaching. In our local district, we have an excellent board.

In this post, I’m writing about an excellent planning process leading to a good plan for the restart of schools in my local school district, North Shore School District 112. The consulting group with who we engaged started our meetings with them using the quote that serves as the title of this post: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. We are taking the reality of a dangerous and uncertain virus and public health response to it and we’re weighing the needs, rights, and contractual obligations we have to do our jobs in these uncertain times.

Even though we had more than 50 teachers, administrators, educational support staff, union leaders, parents, board members, students, & more engaged in planning, dialogue, discussion and review, we do not have a perfect plan. We have a very good plan. We do not have perfect answers. We do, though, have answers. We do not eliminate risk, but we do a heck of job in mitigating and reducing risk. Our board remains committed to the safety, health, and general welfare of its employees and its students and its community.

As a superintendent of schools, I cannot cure coronavirus – I cannot declare safety and all clear in this pandemic. I cannot fix the void in national and coherent strategies in global pandemic mitigation. I can, though, instill pride and care in the community I serve to the Board I serve and for the students and staff, I serve. In my slice of the world, with around 4500 people in my direct sphere, I can lead, plan, collaborate and implement a good set of plans that mitigate risks and bring some sense of enhanced normalcy to kids, their families, and our staff. Our plan is very good, it’s not perfect.

For the good of our calling as educators, we have students who only get one chance to be in X grade. In our system, it’s PK-8th grade. We must facilitate learning for them. It’s not ideal to be in the middle of a global pandemic. There is no easy choice to potentially put anyone in harm’s way. We have a moral obligation to teach and learn. We have contractual obligations to teach, work, and serve the community that supports us.

We can do this! We’re not perfect. We are very good. But we’re the public school. We have fire drills so we do not die in fire or smoke. We have severe storm drills so we do not die in tornados or severe storms. We have ALICE training so we do not die if a bad guy comes in to cause us harm. We mitigate risk through investments in safety and training. We practice drills so we can survive and thrive. We do not let fear close us down. We do not let a pursuit of perfect shut us down. We persevere. We lead. We serve. We honor our commitments.

We are a public school. We feed the hungry. We call the department of child and family services when we suspect abuse or neglect. We teach everyone. We serve the public. We deal with whatever comes our way. We love our students and we help them become resilient and strong leaders of tomorrow. We protect one another from the challenges of serving the public.

We are a public school. We are planning the reopening of schools in this most uncertain time with our chins up in this evil pandemic. We are outfitting our teachers and staff in masks and face shields. We are requiring face coverings for all students – no ifs, and, or buts. We are hiring specialists in cleaning and sanitizing. We are reducing the density of people to 50% or less at any one time; we are setting up 6ft social/physical distancing. We are investing in indoor air quality enhancements. We are doing anything and everything we can do to mitigate risk, reduce risk, and keep our staff and students safe. We may be afraid of the virus, but our calling is higher than fear. We may wish for a perfect plan, but we will not let perfect be the enemy of good.

We are the public school. We may have anxiety and concern and worry. We may hope that the public adheres to risk mitigation and tells the truth with the self-certification of their children. We may even be scared. We are essential, critical care workers. We shape the future. We teach children. We serve the public. We demand that everyone takes this virus and the need for risk mitigation seriously. Wear a mask. Maintain physical distance. Wash your hands. Protect us!

I’m proud of our Board of Education, our return to school planning teams with union leaders, teachers, staff members, parents, board members; input from students and local partners. We forged collaborative and inclusive planning where perfect has not been nor will it become the enemy of good.

We are the public school. We work, we serve, we educate. We are called to action and even in the darkest of times, we open the doors, we turn on the lights and we provide safety and consistency for the children we are employed and honored to serve.

We are about to start schooling in the most uncertain of times. I’m grateful to our courageous staff of more than 500, our student population of nearly 4000, and our communities who entrust us to fulfill our mission and vision. It’s not easy — nothing worthwhile ever is.

Learn more about our Return to school planning (at https://www.nssd112.org/domain/1243)

Learn more about Back To school on the Podcast Pages: Back To School Podcast #112Leads

 

Fall 2020 – Re-Opening schools Video Message #112Leads

“Always hold yourself to just one standard: to be the very best version of who you are.”
– George Raveling

Little in my career has been more complicated, more complex, and more controversial than the reopening planning for school this fall. On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we closed the doors to our brick and mortar schools and we have not yet reopened these doors. 

Right now, we are building schedule/staffing & infrastructure for hybrid (in person or virtual choice). As you are all well aware, we are prepared to open in person on September 3rd, and we will pivot to full remote learning if needed based on the health and science metrics.  Parents made an election of hybrid in-person or hybrid virtual for the first grading period (9/3-11/20 elementary and  9/3-11/6 middle school).

Please see the video message for additional explanation: (subtitles Spanish/English are in process)

Video Message to Community related to the reopening of schools

Open Letter to Community – Re: Racism, Equality & Freedom

“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

June 1, 2020

An Open Letter to our Community,

The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, brings racial violence to the forefront of our country and our psyche as a nation.  While our nation and local communities have made strides regarding racial equality over the years, the reality is, our nation has a lot of work to do.  The current sadness I feel and that is felt around the nation and world is not sadness that should be present in our society. We are all and we are each better than this. Everyone deserves respect and honor as a human being.

Our school district takes great pride in serving families of many races, creeds, ethnicities, religions, languages, etc.   While we value these as strengths of our district, we continue to look for ways to respect and engage our differences. In the days, months, and years ahead, our district will need to engage students and families in exploring their own identities and learning through a lens/perspective different from their own. We must go beyond celebrating diversity in surface-level ways. It’s time to go deeper. It’s time to raise the generation that will erase the legacies of institutionalized racism.

I recently watched the History Channel miniseries on Ulysses S. Grant, it was a three day, six-hour documentary of Grant’s life, leadership, trials & tribulations. It also chronicles the American Civil War and the Reconstruction efforts in the South. Through literal bloodshed, slavery in the US was abolished and racial equality was legislated and put forth into law. In the decades that followed the US Civil War, the evils of institutionalized racism reinstituted a 2nd class society for people of color. Each time achievements were made in our nation, there were steps backward. Perhaps this is the time for us to step forward and stay forward.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Dual Language Two-Way Immersion, Spanish-English program in District 112. The blending of race, culture, language, ethnicity, and personal family histories serve to strengthen our schools, our children, and our communities. I’m proud to oversee an ethnically and linguistically inclusive educational program.

Standards-aligned curriculum & instruction serve to support the facilitation of balanced and thoughtful learning in all grades PK-8. Flexible changes in school boundaries and attendance centers sometimes appeared to be the greatest challenges and “problems” we faced in our district. World and national events surely put all of this into perspective as we reflect on the abundance and joy in our school district. If ever there was a time for perspective — it is now!

As we reflect on recent national events (racial oppression and inequity) and global events (worldwide Pandemic bringing nations to a close), I call upon us all to rise up above the myopic views that sometimes stifle true understanding and growth. In North Shore School District 112,  we are committed to educating each one of our students. We are also committed to supporting each member of the staff.  We stand by equity, justice, kindness, respect, and good character. It is no longer enough to be against racism and oppression, we must become anti-racist and accomplices in the fight for equality and justice for all.         

Remember our motto is Inspire…Innovate…Engage through our collective efforts and unity in kindness and good we can help to create a more just and bias-free society. While we endure the uncertainty of a Pandemic and we bear witness to the tragedy of racism and systemic oppression, it is my belief that we can unite and learn and grow in partnership for the good and right!

While we commit to embedding the tenets of social justice and anti-racism in our core, we are not there yet. We have work to do to actualize equality in both action and results. We are committed to this work and to ensuring that each child is able to grow in an educational environment that is safe and actualizes their greatness. To our students and families of color, I commit to start with me. I commit to not just reflect and discuss but to act upon injustice. I commit to acknowledge the rich contributions of Blacks and Latinos in the curriculum, to both listen and to act. I commit to using my power and privilege to fight against racist policies and practices. I commit to lead a school district that pays back the educational and societal debt that is owed to you.

With hope and respect,

Mike

Michael Lubelfeld Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Impact of a Teacher – #112Leads

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin

With this school year coming to a close on June 4, 2020 I was reflecting on the power of a teacher, and in February 2017 I shared a similar story about one of the most impactful educators in my life. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on Dr. McFarland and share his impact on me again as we prepare to bring the most unprecedented school year to a close! Originally shared in February, 2017 I shared some thoughts about how a college professor from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency from many years ago impacted my life and my professional journey. A journey that currently has some powerful meaning/relevance with our district’s move to remote e-Learning. With this blog post, I’ll draw the connections!

As a former 6th and 8th grade social studies teacher (U.S. history, civics, law, world history, reading, etc.) I have a deep interest in our nation’s culture, history, values, beliefs, celebrations, etc. In addition, I hold a degree in political science, so I have been a “policy wonk” for many years, and to this day I follow the news, politics, etc.

While I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, I had some of the best teachers in my life. The late Dr. Twiley Barker Jr., Dr. Kevin Lyles, and Dr. Andrew McFarland, to name a few. During a course on the American Presidency, POLS 229, an event took place in my life that impacted my philosophies, beliefs, and actions as a teacher and educational leader over the past 30 years. In some ways it likely shaped my philosophies and impact as a teacher and as an educational leader so many years later. Right now there is a current challenging transition from the abrupt changes to remote e-Learning and how teachers have to “report progress” in this unusual time. Looking back at my personal educational history, I’m reminded of why meaningful feedback, teacher /student relationships, and the mastery of content and the flexibility of instruction supersedes any percentage grade or mark in terms of meaningful feedback and communication about learning.

With this blog post, I’m reflecting on the congruity of an impactful event in my life during an undergraduate course, and the realization that this impactful event has impacted my beliefs whether I consciously knew about it or not. This is an “aha” moment for me – this is partially why I so strongly believe the growing pains and transition are worth the time, effort, energy, and extra work involved in pupil progress reporting.

 


Change is hard (I’ve written a lot about the change process) – Unlearning is hard (I have also written about this concept).

My college professor Dr. Andrew McFarland gave me a chance in the “real world” -when I was in college. Because he knew me, he knew what kind of student I was – he knew my passion for political science he treated me like I was more than a percentage or a score. Dr. McFarland also taught so that students would learn. He had high standards for each and every student and he held himself to high standards too.

So what is this all about? What is this big event that caused me an “aha” moment? Dr. McFarland called me one night while I was eating dinner with my parents; it was 5:30pm – I don’t know how I remember this fact, but I do. This event took place in 1988 or 1989 and I still vividly remember our call!

He called me that night because earlier that day when I took the final exam, I inadvertently forgot to answer one or two additional questions. If Dr. McFarland graded or assessed based on the “old” system I would have received an F. Dr. McFarland, though, was using standards based learning and instruction (whether he or I knew it or not). He called me on the phone and asked me to respond to the final exam question prompts – for 30 maybe 60 minutes. Because he cared about learning – not about percentages or “harsh” lessons, I was able to demonstrate mastery and competency of the American Presidency course (in which I did earn an A, not only because of what I learned, but more importantly, because my professor cared about discovering what his students knew).

He assessed my knowledge acquisition in an alternative learning setting because my teacher was more concerned about assessing my learning and mastery than he was about issuing a grade or a percentage. Had this caring professor used traditional methods I would have failed the exam. In my opinion and in my experiences, standards based grading, reporting, learning, and assessment actually prepares people for real life by holding them accountable to learn. Thank you Dr. McFarland!

Our district will transition through this remote e-Learning to next year (whatever that may be … ideally safe, healthy, and in person). Through this transformational experience for our schooling and for our society, we have all shown how quickly we can unlearn when we must, we have shown how we can relearn schooling, and we will show that we can learn how to create a new reality as necessary.

Dr. McFarland unlearned old school and rigid grading and assessment practices and I consider him to be remarkable and gifted, he was a leader who impacted me and my practice. Let’s use modern instructional strategies to maximize the impact and effect of learning whether we’re in person or remote, or in a hybrid combination of both. Let’s help people unlearn practices that make no sense other than to have been used in their past school experiences.

Preparing students for the future world requires teaching them content that is meaningful in learning environments that are powerfully purposeful and full of clear, regular, meaningful feedback and opportunities to learn and demonstrate learning. As we bring the school year to a close, we are reminded of the impact and power of a teacher and his or her feedback. Thank you to all educators — and thank you again, Dr. McFarland!

Looking Forward – May 16 2020

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”– John C. Maxwell

Haga clic aquí para leer la versión en español

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Dear Member of the North Shore School District 112 Staff, Parents/Guardians, and Community,

While our #1 focus is on finishing this year as strongly as we can, we have our eyes and plans on returning to school in the fall. With this note, I’m sharing our thoughts, questions that are being posed, and advance planning to update you. My intention is to help you start to plan and adhere to our priority to communicate with you often.

In anticipation of next year’s reopening, we are pouring over content and planning and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), other state plans and professional association guidelines for returning to school, like that from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). Yesterday, the state superintendent of schools released considerations for closing this school year. The guidance on return to school is forthcoming.

My plan is to provide a formal update to you all on June 30, 2020, at the regular Board of Education meeting. Meantime, I’m sharing some highlights and resources that I would like you to be aware of and to consider as we prepare for “back to school” in a few short months. I will follow up with additional communications prior to the June 30, 2020, Board meeting.

Education
Our Back to School planning is focused on keeping student learning at the forefront – safe, healthy, and intentional focus on learning. We are also conscious of the fact that there could be further interruptions experienced during the 2020-21 school year due to a resurgence of COVID-19. We are also aware of a subset of our community who may simply refuse to send their children to school for a variety of reasons. Generally, we are anticipating three prongs as we return to school:
In-Person schooling – with health safeguards
We are waiting for the Illinois Department of Public Health/Illinois State Board of Education return to schooling guidance
Hybrid Approach – some in-person schooling and some remote learning 2.0
Remote Learning – taking what worked in the crisis, what we learned in the crisis, and input from the surveys to refine and improve e-Learning

The quality of learning for students during this crisis has not been equal to in-person learning. We know this. We are working to make sure that we use the reflective observation and input of our teachers, administrators, and community to improve our in-person schooling, our health focus, and our Remote/E-learning 2.0 to focus on the best and most impactful learning and teaching. I am deeply grateful to our teachers, support staff, administrators, and parents for the herculean efforts demonstrated during this public health crisis that caused a complete and total change to education.

Some Questions we are working through in order to prepare for the school year 2020-2021:
As information continues to evolve, is it reasonable for our schools to be safely open as normal? What are health and safety protocols that need to be instituted?
What modifications should be made to safely open our schools, and is it possible for our schools to make those modifications? We don’t want to make false promises. We are eager to open but safety and health are #1 priorities and considerations.
What can be different about our attendance policies to ensure that students and staff can act in the best interest of their health and the health of others? We are mindful of the wide breadth of this pandemic and its continued impact on members of our staff, students, families, and the greater community.
How should we modify our “return to work/school” protocols?
What do we do with students or staff that are not safe in returning to school?
How do we determine if learning loss has occurred for some of our students?
How will custodial protocols change to meet current best practice?
If the State does not allow us to begin the school year in person, what does returning to school actually look like?

INSPIRE…INNOVATE…ENGAGE

Again, we know that the past few months have been challenging. Our students, staff, and families continue to be in our thoughts as we collectively experience this pandemic. We are stronger when we work together and appreciate the support, care, and attention that our staff and you have provided our students during this difficult time.

With respect, regards, and appreciation,

Mike

Michael Lubelfeld Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Letter to the Community April 17 2020 – #112Leads

Haga clic aquí para la versión en español

“In life, there is no such thing as impossible; it’s always possible.”– Venus Williams

Dear North Shore School District 112 Staff and Community,

As you may have heard or read, today Governor Pritzker announced that all schools in Illinois will remain closed, and he announced the suspension of in-person learning for the remainder of the school year. For us, that means that June 4, 2020, will reflect the end of the school year 2019-2020.

We recognize that this development will raise questions about the impact on students, staff, and families for the remainder of this school year with respect to learning, emotional concerns, end of year traditions, and more. We know this news is tough for many reasons. Let’s all reflect on our own personal health and our families. We will get through this difficult time together.

To date, we have served more than 7,000 breakfast and lunch meals, and we’ll continue to provide food distribution and work in conjunction with local social service agencies and the Township. Please use this opportunity to focus on staying safe and helping to slow the spread of the virus. We will complete this school year using our Remote Learning Plan.

As we review and process this new development, my team will work through necessary plans and responses to this new, unexpected reality. We are making plans for summer school options and we are exploring methods to assess learning including the learning loss as a result of the abrupt change from in-person schooling to remote learning. We are committed to supporting student learning. We’re monitoring attendance, schedules, learning, and impact as we “build this plane while flying.”

Dr. Ryan will have an update on e-Learning at next week’s Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, April 21, at 7:00 p.m. held remotely. We encourage you to take advantage of the learning resources shared by your teachers, the principals, those provided by Educere and other digital sources as we work through this new and transitional approach to running schools. We want to thank our teachers and support staff for their flexibility, resiliency, and creativity. We are working with our teachers on ways to improve e-Learning daily and weekly.

We are also consulting with local districts as well as with national partners on how to maximize learning and instruction using e-Learning for 4,000 students in grades PK-8.

As a reminder, we’ve been focused on the following four priorities in this evolving pandemic crisis:

  • Priority one – feed our families and children
  • Priority two – account for the extended safety, health, and welfare of our 4500 students and staff
  • Priority three – communicate clearly
  • Priority four – e-Learning

We are confident that our prioritization of physical and mental health first and foremost before other considerations is the right way for us to lead through this crisis. Since we are all experiencing this together I want to thank you for compassion and grace as we, like the rest of our nation, deal with this complete and total change in education.

We will be using a survey (or series of surveys) very soon to get your input to inform our new “rest of the year” planning. We thank you in advance for completing any requests for input. Our partnership has never been more important than it is right now. We are proud of our transformation, and we are grateful to each and every one of you for your dedication to education and public health.

Please stay safe & healthy.

Sincerely,

Mike|

Michael Lubelfeld, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

D112 Supt Message Regarding IL Stay at Home – #112Leads

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
– Gail Devers

Over the course of just over one week our worlds have changed significantly in Illinois and our nation and our world with the COVID-19 Pandemic. On March 12, 2020, I ordered all schools in our District closed indefinitely with a possible reopening date of April 13. My “logic” was guided by the science of the health professionals and the actions of higher education calling their students home and closing for at least 2 weeks after spring break. In Illinois, the Governor closed the schools from March 17-March 30 and then he ordered a Stay at Home (including school closures) until at least April 7th. “The times, they are a changin’ …” (Bob Dylan 1964) – appropriate today!

Since March 12, 2020, I have sent out at least eight “all” communications (they go to thousands in our community) in an effort to communicate our District’s priorities and plans during this Pandemic closure. In this blog post, I’m sharing a video message as another effort of clarity in this otherwise unclear set of circumstances. The video has edited subtitles in Spanish and English and you may have to click the CC or Gear or three dots to see them.

In District 112, our Four Priorities are:
Priority one – feed our families and children
Priority two – account for the extended safety, health, and welfare of our 4500 students and staff
Priority three – communicate clearly
Priority four – e-Learning

Visit Staying Healthy in District 112 for access to our recent communications.

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