(From out of the past) A Note in the Bottle

Recently a note in a bottle washed in upon my shore as if by magic (thanks magic!) Inside was the following quote:

A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.

- John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)

After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at PHS. The following are a few of the things that came to mind:

  1. RiskOf course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
  2. DestinationSometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare high schoolers for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a remodeled high school where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
  3. DoldrumsDefined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
  4. Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.

What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Groenewold’s Flickr photostream

Alejandro Groen

Cutting Loose (or losing your mind….)!

In the course of administrating a school building, it is sometimes required to step up and perform.  Although the position is very rewarding, sometimes it takes a little bit of humor to make the “raw edges” of the daily grind a little smoother.  I have been made a fool of on the basketball court many times both as a player and a coach, but up until this past May, I had never been quite this kind of fool on the court. I guess if there is any lesson for others to take from this craziness, it is that you sometimes need to relax and not take yourself too seriously!  Please let the Beatles and Ferris Bueller forgive me…..

Hey Students! About That Tweet….

(I originally posted this five months ago, today I see things that make me wonder how else to get this point across to you!)

Dear Students,

You might be surprised to find out I have been tweeting since 2007.  My first tweet from November, 2007:

I know, pretty profound, right?  As I write this post, I have tweeted 15,369 times.  Most of them have been about school or education is some fashion.  A few have been personal about family or sports…etc.  I have also been on Instragram, Flickr, Google +, and Facebook for quite some time.  My point in addressing this with you is not to get you to follow me or read what I have put on social media.  Rather it is to address your posting on social media. I do not purposely try to find what our students are putting on social media, but from time to time what students put on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even in text messages gets brought to my attention because of what was said or pictured.  Schools have an interest when what is said in cyberspace ends up disrupting the school day or makes someone feel unsafe or shamed at school.  I have to be honest.  Some of the stuff that has been posted shocks me!  People often post things on Twitter as though they are having a private conversation yet it is in full public view and can be found with almost any search engine.  It is not my intention to punish students for what they post, although sometimes discipline is doled out when rules are broken.  It is my intention though, to try to show you that what you put on social media can have consequences outside of school.  If your applying for school or for a job, you may want to consider what you have posted.  Read how tweets may keep you out of your school of choice or may get you fired.  You may have heard of the concept of a digital footprint, or a history of your interactions on the Internet.  What would people find if they followed your digital footsteps?  Would you want your future boss (or spouse) to read what you have written?  Once you put it out there it really never goes away, even if you delete it.  People can save, screenshot, archive, printout…etc, all the things you put out there.  Even if you have your Facebook (or Twitter) “locked down” so only friends can see what you post, they might not be your friend forever.  Former friends might just share those postings when you thought they were private.  Same with snapchat.  You think those pictures go up in smoke after ten seconds…..  Avoiding embarrassment or worse is really pretty easy though.  Answer this question before you post:  Do I want everyone to read what I am posting?  If the answer is no, then why are you posting it in a public place?  If you have made posts that could cause you problems in the future, go back and delete them.  Delete profiles on services that could cause you issues in the future.  Build a positive reputation online and do your best to post responsibly.  Social media is fun.  It allows us to stay connected to those most important to us.  Be careful to use it in a positive manner and follow the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. (Tweet as though your Grandma reads your tweets!)


Yes! We Are Going To Be Able To Do That!

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Imagine a space in a school building where students spend time working with research specialists from throughout the region in a state of the art research laboratory.  A student may work along side a research professional from Lilly Labs researching pharmaceutical health solutions, collaborate with a chemist from Cargill to create tasty new corn products, communicate with a bio-medical research team in Israel about a current local experiment involving the study of cancer cells at PHS, or study the latest in robotics and their applications at local industries such as North American Lighting or Simonton Windows.

The goal of the inclusion of this lab in the new Paris High School is to create “real life” learning experiences where students are linked to the rest of the world through research projects.  The STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) room will be larger than the size of four regular classrooms and will be zoned to have biological, chemistry, and physics centers where regular classes can go to conduct research and participate in various projects related to course curriculum.  The room can also serve as a center for advance projects done by upperclassmen under the mentorship of classroom teachers and outside experts.  

The students will be able to present findings in media rich environment in the room’s “think tank” area which will be equipped with monitors, speakers, and computer that will connect them with the world as both an audience and an academic resource.  Over all our goal will be to have students conduct high-level research, communicate with local, community, and worldwide audiences via web-based videoconferencing, and partner with a number of universities and corporations to learn practical applications of current science and technical studies.  The room will allow students from vocational and academic courses to co-mingle as they prepare for further academic study or entry into the workforce after leaving high school.  The funding for this venture is available because local philanthropists care about the education of the youth of this community and we could not create a space like this without their help.  If you would like to know how you can become involved in this venture, please contact us at PHS (217) 466-1175.

Architect's rendering at night

Architect’s rendering at night

MICE 2014

social_mediaAcceptable Use Policy that defines student, teacher, staff, and administrative use. A specific citation of social media and its use for educational means.  It needs to delineate how use is a privilege and how the privilege can be lost.









Go where the parents are!  If you are not telling your story, someone else is and you may not like how you are being portrayed!

Paris High School Facebook links

Twitter-LogoGo where the students are!  If we are not addressing student use of social media who is?  TWITTER 

Paris High School Twitter page

Paris High School Athletics on Twitter

Dave Meister’s Twitter Page

PHS Staff on Twitter

PHS Staff Tweets





Dying on the Vine.

dyingonthevineI have not truly blogged here in some time.  I have reported on events here and tackled issues that our students face daily, but I have refrained from writing about the conditions that are affecting public education for a long time because I want our building to remain positive.  I want the staff to do everything they can to make learning positive for kids.  My job is to remove barriers and support the staff in every way possible to make that happen. I have to remain positive and help the school community move forward in every way it can…..but, I cannot help but feel it is also my responsibility to raise the awareness in our community and region about the plight of public education in an era of shrinking revenues and increasing mandates.  It is not my intention to make the job of a high school administrator to sound impossible nor distasteful.  I love what I do when I am in the building with staff and students! Yet, there are conditions that exist, if left unaddressed, may make the educational experiences of our students completely bereft of meaningful opportunities for growth that are offered in programs such as the fine arts, vocational education, and agricultural education. Because the federal government bribed states to adopt the common core standards, new computer based achievement testing, student information systems, and teacher evaluation systems with AARA monies, local schools are saddled with mandate to adopt these “reforms” with less funding than they were getting before the changes were became law.  Illinois never did get in on the funding bonanza, yet we promised to make changes both to get money and to get relief from the No Child Left Behind law that said every student would be proficient in math and reading by…..2014. Illinois has failed to fully fund its education obligations for several years now and small districts are paying the price.  In order to save money, so they can pay staff and bills, many districts have cut their programs to the bare bones.  Where there were once thriving vocational programs serving students and preparing them for real work, there are empty rooms that sit idly by while students prep for the next test.  Our lawmakers seem to be saying lets let the money dry up in order to force reform and small districts to consolidate, all the while rural communities do what they can to save their schools, and their identities, by cutting their school programs to the bone.  Great way to serve kids.  I challenge local legislators to come sit in our schools for more than it takes to do a short walkthrough to wave at everybody.  Sit in our empty vocational rooms, ask the kids what classes they wish they could take, feel the pain that is being inflicted on small rural schools.  Better yet, do the politically courageous thing and legislate solutions that do more than just add unfunded mandates.  Find more revenue, look at the research and what it says about learning and the affect of high stakes testing, teacher evaluation tied to test scores, and narrowed curriculum devoid of enriching electives. You owe it to our kids.  Forget about the next election and accepting money from organizations like Students First and find real solutions.  We are dying on the vine.

Photo courtesy of Andreanna Moya Photography on Flickr

Sage Advice–A Story of Community Service

jeffery martin and james russ wilhoitGuest Post by Brett Block- On Wednesday, January 15th, 2014, the PCHS junior homeroom classes of Mrs. Block and Mrs. Stallings went to the Paris Health Care Center to visit with residents. They interviewed them to learn about their pasts and keep them company for an hour or so. The students were given life advice and got to share experiences with some very interesting people. The residents gave much insight as to what life had been like here in Paris and the surrounding communities many years ago. They shared about their family life and some of their successes and tribulations in life. Their life advice was very helpful and ranged from “live life to the fullest” to “not everything’s rosy, but you can make it work if you try”.

“It was a great experience,” said Kennedy Gladding, “Joann Vice, the woman I interviewed, was a very sweet person! It was amazing to hear what her life has been like and how much it differed from life now”. Some of the students were very interested to hear about the cars, schools, dances, and technology of the time. “They have seen so much more life than we have, it makes me wonder what will be different when we are their age,” said Kaitlin Block.paige callaway and Martha Edington This experience was definitely a positive one, and every student would recommend a visit with these wonderful people if you want something to do in your free time. Contact the volunteer department at 465-5376 to set up a time to put together puzzles, play bingo, Skip-Bo, sing a song, play music, paint fingernails, read to the residents, garden in the flower beds, decorate cookies, or just talk and listen to the great residents of Paris HealthCare! Thanks to the PCHS students that went on our visit- Steven Bracken, Aaron Gates, Karen Cook, Brianna Blair, Karissa Gobin, Haley Gates, Sahvanna Board, Kylie Gess, Jeffery Martin, Kennedy Gladding, Kaitlin Block, Ashley Bracken, Breanna Bracken, Shelby Hollis, Devon Gobin, Brooklyn Gilbert, Jordon Brading, Cris Gosnell, Shawn Gray, Paige Callaway, Tyler Blue, Austin Brown, and Nathaniel Sapp.
Thanks to those residents being interviewed- Richard Mendenhall, Floyd Tresner, Julia Dailey, Bessie Maynard, Sharon Hutson, James “Russ” Wilhiot, Joan Vice, John Taylor, Harald Connelly, Kay Snyder, Irma Landes, Olivine Hart, Bert Egan, and Martha Edington.

A special thanks to Goody Wilken (employed at PHC for 34 years!!) and to Amy McGilvrey for setting up our visit and coming to the high school to speak with our students.

Link to powerpoint of life advice from residents (good stuff!) CLICK HERE!

Community Involvement

This past Saturday our gymnasium was transformed from its normal venue of basketball court and PE room into a large stage for our spring musical Cinderella.  I have not seen too many gyms turned into a full court stage like they do here in Paris.  It has taken the efforts of many people over the years to perfect this stage and turn this gym into a place where thespians shine!  The above video is a time lapse of the “building of the stage”.  I am not sure how many people showed up to spend half, or more, of their Saturday to put this together, but their help is priceless.  You cannot buy the experiences our kids will have over the next two weeks preparing for and putting on Cinderella.  By the time it is over, half of our student body will have participated in some way.  We could not do this without the community’s help!  From the donated hours from the parents to the donated dollars of the local businesses, the contributions are numerous and generous!  Our drama program has become a very important part of not just student life and experience, it has become an important training ground for students interested in entertainment and theater.  We have had many of our graduates of the program go on to work in theater, television, and the music industry. Thank you parents, community, and local businesses!

By all Means, Hold Us Accountable!

But…..you had better take into account the WHOLE PICTURE!

This past week a had an opportunity to travel to the Effingham, IL to take in the All Apollo Conference Band Concert.  What a wonderful evening of splendid music.  Eighty of the best musicians from local high schools brought together for an all-day clinic under the direction of Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds from O’Fallon High School. The event made for awesome learning experience and a very memorable evening of concert sounds.  As students were motioned to stand to be recognized for their solo efforts at the end of every song, the warm applause from the audience of parents and other family members had the students bursting with pride.  It was definitely an experience that allowed me to acknowledge to myself that there are so many things right with what we do in public education.  The value that is provided to our students and communities is so much greater than the achievement that is measured on one day of the school year.  I want our school, all public schools for that matter, to be held accountable for these types of student learning opportunities.  If we truly want to measure the value that public educators bring to the table then let’s find a way to measure:

The glow of pride a student radiates upon receiving a standing ovation from the patrons at an honor band concert

The feeling of accomplishment when a student earns a best of show in a regional art show

The effort of a teacher that, because of the time invested, uses an established relationship to talk a student out of dropping out.

The accomplishment when a student earns a presidential scholarship to a prestigious secondary education institution.

The value of programs that allow students to experience connections that has them see the relationships of learning and hard work beyond test scores and grades.

A student’s ability to create a handcrafted object that represents a challenge met. A challenge that allowed the student to grow and understand the interconnectivity of knowledge disciplines and to go beyond the mere manipulation and recollection of facts.

The ingenuity of teachers who work together to do something new for their students.  Teachers who collaborate to make multidisciplinary experiences for students that make subjects engaging and lifelike.

The lifetime effort of a teacher who dedicated hours to building relationships with students and pushing kids to do things they never thought they could do.  A coach who taught the value of respect, effort, and sportsmanship in victory as well as defeat.

By all means, hold us accountable! Test scores need to scrutinized, attendance rates measured, drop out rates included, but you had better add to the metric the true value of the programs we provide! (add your own example in the comments….please!)

My Homework Assignment….

So my friend Patrick Larkin tagged me in a chain-blogging task which obligates me to share 11 random facts about myself and then to answer 11 questions that Patrick has asked. I have been suffering from blog writer’s block.  So this gives me the opportunity to kick start myself.

My 11 Random Facts
1. I grew up in Laramie Wyoming
2. My first job, other than a paper route, was a car washer at the local Ford dealership.
3. I actually made a few bucks as a cowboy while attending college.
4. I spent a summer pouring concrete in Temecula, California.
5. My idea of spring break when I was in college was to attend the Western Athletic     Conference basketball tournament. (three years in a row!)
6. I have completed the Indianapolis Half Marathon four times.
7. I make Christmas sugar cookies
8. I am an avid fantasy baseball nut!
9. I am not sure what I want to be when I grow up.
10 This is the road I traveled to get to where I am.
11.I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, and three dogs.
My responses to Patrick’s Questions
  1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts?  No, but I would love to visit someday!
  2. What is your favorite sports team (college or pro)? Denver Broncos
  3. Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others. Ira Socal
  4. When you were little, what did you dream of becoming? A pro football player
  5. How far away do you live from where you grew up? 1100 miles
  6. What is your favorite meal?  Blackened grouper
  7. If you were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go? Hawaii
  8. Do you prefer Macs or PC’s?  PC
  9. Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soulmate, what was the best day of your life?  The day I went to my first pro football game at Mile High Stadium.
  10. What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year? The Hobbit
  11. What is the last live concert that you’ve attended?  Jimmy Buffet
Now for the fun part. I have to find 11 more bloggers to keep this thing going and ask them 11 questions (hoping they have not been tagged previously).
  1. Gary Doughan
  2. Nathan Ogle
  3. Jeremy Larson
  4. Pam Moran
  5. Josh Stumpenhorst
  6. Curt Rees
  7. Colin Wikan
  8. Tom Altepeter
  9. Mike Smith
  10. Ira Socal
  11. Any other blogger that would like to join in.
 Here are your questions
1.  If you could solve any one problem permanently, what would it be?
2. What would you do over if you had a chance?
3. What is your favorite desert?
4. When did you know you wanted to be involved in education?
5. If you had a whole day to do just what you wanted to do, what would that be?
6. If you could meet anyone, at any time in history, who would it be?
7. What do you want to learn how to do?
8. What is your favorite beverage?
9. Who is your favorite artist/actor/performer?
10. What was your best subject in school?
11. What is your favorite season of the year?
The Guidelines for your Homework…
    1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
    2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
    3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
    4. List 11 bloggers.
    5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
    6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment. Go on, you have homework to do.