The end is only the beginning…

The end of the 2015-2016 school year is near. It is time for reflection and to look ahead. The high school met all of the district goals for the year, and we should be very proud of that accomplishment. At the same time, we raise the standard for next year and look to how we can continue to increase student achievement.

Our district goals for 2016-2017 include raising student achievement in reading and math on standardized tests, incorporating community service projects, and increasing participation in athletics and activities grades six through twelve. At the high school, first we look to data from this year’s Iowa Assessments and MAP tests to see where instruction could be adapted. Next, each of our seminar groups will develop a community service project to enact during the year. Finally, we will work on staff and student recruitment efforts to help every student be involved in at least one activity, club or sport during the 2016-2017 school year.

I’ll be looking to student handbook revisions, finishing my initial administrative portfolio, updating staff documents, and a lot of reading over the summer. I’m also starting my superintendent degree program in June, so there will be much more reading and study as the work of 2015-2016 comes to a close.

I hope everyone has a wonderful summer filled with many activities, time with family and friends, a good book every so often, and time to recharge so that we can continue to make every day a great day to be a Timberwolf in 2016-2017! GO TIMBERWOLVES!!!


Finish Strong!

Today is the last day for seniors at Southwest Valley High School. What a whirlwind year it has been for them in their final year and me in my first! For the rest of the staff and students, we still have a few days left and need to finish strong!

Final projects, the last make-up work, semester tests; so many things to do as we count down the days. Students not only need to worry about getting all their assignments completed, but doing everything to the best of their ability so they earn credit for classes and avoid academic suspensions from activities. While there are summer school options available for students to recover failed credits, making sure we get to the next year on track and staying on track for graduation is of great importance.

I also have to complete final projects, such as my initial administrative portfolio, updating student handbook, and staff paperwork for 2016-2017. My deadlines are not as soon as the students’, but there are still plenty of things to take care of before school is out. It has been a great year, and I look forward to many more to come here at Southwest Valley High School! Finish strong! GO TIMBERWOLVES!!!

What a wonderful world

We are four weeks into our school year, and many wonderful things have already happened. I see students, staff and colleagues helping others and voluntarily giving of their time and talents to lift their peers. I see people pick up trash they don’t have to. I see people hold doors. I see people ask if someone is ok. I see people help clean up something they didn’t spill. I am so very impressed with the body of people I am working with.

Homecoming was this past week, and what a week it was! School spirit is on display wherever you go. Our homecoming parade, something that hasn’t been stopped since anyone can remember, was cancelled due to weather. The superintendent mobilized the participants and organized an impromptu pep rally that was well-attended by the community, students who had been originally dismissed that volunteered to come back, and our elementary and middle school students (who behaved incredibly well for all the chaos that was their Homecoming Friday.)

Something else that happened this week I was reminded of during tonight’s #iaedchat on commitment vs. compliance. (Check out the archive when it is posted later, search the hashtag to read more, or search out @jimmycasas and @danpbutler.) I had two classes struggling to succeed, needing a change. The students were frustrated and the teachers felt like their hands were tied. Everyone came together willingly to brainstorm solutions. We have a plan to move forward, but we also have hope to create a better educational experience for all involved.

I am thrilled to be in a place that has teachers working to serve student needs. I am thrilled to be in a place that has students concerned enough about their education to speak up when they have ideas. I am thrilled to be in a place where I can be a servant-leader, appreciate what is already happening, and grow right along with everyone else in the building. We have fantastic custodians, secretaries, cooks, and paraprofessionals. I am thrilled to call myself a Timberwolf!

Reflection and anticipation

Many of our school friends are just getting started in school this week; we are already three weeks into our year! I just enjoyed my first sip of coffee for the morning. This is the time where I reflect on what we have done, and dream about the opportunities that lie ahead; both this year and into the future.

The conversation I’ve had most with students these first few weeks is about communication. Many take the “do, then ask for forgiveness” approach to get what they want. In my first-day meeting with the students, I emphasized that if you need to do something, ask your teacher, and more than likely you will get what you want. I’m encouraged that the faculty reinforces that viewpoint when I ask what their policies are. I’m hopeful that laying this groundwork will begin building successful student/teacher relationships, making the little things no big thing at all.

Looking to the future, we will begin the journey toward standards-based education (SBE) at our first in-service. I’m excited that I have two years to lead this systemic change, but nervous that that time has already started. Teachers will receive introductory information in our first in-service, then it will quickly be on to the work of adopting the philosophy, adapting our practices, and rolling out the new reporting system in fall 2017. This is a big undertaking, but there are so many supports. Books, YouTube videos, and research articles abound. There are professional resources on social media, such as the Teachers Throwing Out Grades and Standards-Based Learning pages on Facebook. Twitter followers can check out authors like @Rickwormeli2 and @kenoconnor, and #sblchat on Wednesday nights led by @Drjolly and @garnet_hillman. I know as our building begins it’s journey toward SBE, these resources, along with local leaders @nvprincipal and @patrabbitt will be invaluable to our work.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. – Stephen Hawking

Week one in the books

Before August 19th, I was a zombie. Staring at my computer screen for eight hours a day was about to make me climb the walls! I thought to myself, “I can’t wait until the teachers get here and the building becomes active again.” Teachers arrived August 19th, and my mantra became a play on the old deodorant slogan, “Never let ’em see you vomit.”

Students arrived August 24th. The building was bustling with activity as the kids met with their friends and discovered their way to the assembly with the new principal. They listened intently. Well, they sat quietly at least. We went through the handbook, lunch schedule, met the staff, and laid down the expectation for the year, “don’t forget to be awesome!”

Now that the schedules have been adjusted, and who goes to lunch when has been changed around a dozen times, we can get down to the business of education. Not that it hasn’t been happening already, with teachers checking for understanding and questioning from the first class period of class rules and expectations.

In my visits around the classrooms, I see exciting projects, informative lectures, and engagement throughout the curriculum. Our building lead team gathers this morning to start talking about teacher learning for the year in professional development. The great start we have had this year will only be intensified and magnified through new ideas and approaches to increase student achievement.

The house is rockin’, but I encourage you to come on in and see the great things that are happening at Southwest Valley High School. This is going to be an awesome year!

Welcome back 2015!

To Southwest Valley High School staff, students, parents and communities:

Welcome to the 2015-2016 school year! My name is Jamie Craig, and I will be serving as high school principal. I have met many wonderful people in my first few days in the district, and look forward to people arriving at school in the next few days.

Much of the recent education discussion has centered around preparing students for a 21st century economy. The focus question I have been using comes from the new School Administrators of Iowa executive director Roark Horn (Twitter: @roarkhorn): “Can our students do what they want to do when they leave us?” There are many opportunities available to students here at Southwest Valley High School, but another new piece of data from IowaWORKS (formerly Iowa Workforce Development) shows that jobs requiring skills acquired through technical, 2-year, or 4-year degrees far outnumber the qualified candidate pool. Conversely, the number of jobs requiring skills earned with a high school diploma is far less than the qualified candidate pool. This creates both a dilemma for students and the school: are we preparing students for the work they want to do after high school, and are students planning ahead to take advantage of the opportunities provided for them during high school?

Another quote I heard this summer was, “inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard.” Getting to a high school diploma and going to work or post-secondary education is more of a struggle now than it has ever been for students, staff, and families alike. As we start the year I hope that we can breathe, take things step by step, and achieve the goals we all have for success. I know that I will have to go slow as I experience an entire new set of “firsts” in my career, but I also know that I am not alone. I encourage you to contact me anytime via email or phone at school to ask questions, share concerns, or celebrate victories along the way. I look forward to learning and growing with you as part of the Southwest Valley community. Let’s have a great year – GO TIMBERWOLVES!

Jamie Craig


Southwest Valley High School

Time for a new argument

The 2015 school funding debate was voracious, the long fight led to a less than desirable agreement, and in the end the Governor’s veto and subsequent comments leave the education community in a spiraling pit of despair. House Republicans were steadfast on their spending principles, and Senate Democrats were firm in their support of providing the same funding process that has existed since the school supplemental aid (allowable growth) formula came into existence. 1.25% with an additional one-time $55 million was more than sufficient for the Republicans in the end, except Governor Branstad, who vetoed the one-time spending.

The battle has been all-encompassing throughout the spring and early summer. Superintendents and school boards set budgets without certified numbers from the statehouse. The arguments that either schools need to be more efficient or that schools have enough money are both invalid when schools have to guess how much money they will be working with. With no special session in sight, the fight is over for this fiscal year. A person longer in the conversation than I shared that additional funding like Phase monies, teacher quality money, and other earmarked special allotments have been created so that school districts could use money other than the general fund allocation to support expenditures. The formula has worked for awhile, but it may be time to change that formula as schools once again move to dependence on only the general fund to meet budgetary requirements.

The upcoming Republican agenda will be to move toward privatization, vouchers and dismantling of teacher unions; that is well-documented. I think those in support of public education would be well-served to push for legislation during the next session to rework public school funding. Real reform that will provide for districts at an acceptable cost to taxpayers. Continuing to “choke out” public schools by tying superintendents’ hands and putting everyone in limbo doesn’t do anything for our students and takes away from their educational future with no real plan for change.

I believe that those with means to do so need to file lawsuits to assure that the next legislature sets school funding according to the law in 2016. Reform will take time, and two things have to be addressed to allow schools to move forward during the transition: schools need enough money to keep up with inflation and cost of living increases, and the teacher leadership compensation money needs to be excluded from the total given to schools (this money was well documented not to be part of increases in money to schools). If schools can be given solid numbers on time, they can transition to new funding systems with as little disruption to the educational program as possible and plan for the future as supported in and intended by state law.

Superintendents are doing their job. See Chris Hoover, superintendent at Maquoketa, and his blog. It’s time for the Iowa Legislature to do theirs.