Opening speech for start of school

(Editor’s Note: Below is a slightly condensed (for space reasons) version of Keystone Central School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Lonoconus’ speech to faculty and staff in advance of the first day of school today.)

Good morning and welcome back! I hope that each of you enjoyed the summer, and I am thrilled to welcome you back for the “official” start of the 2018-19 school year. It is truly an honor for me to be back to serve you as your superintendent. I have gotten to know many of you and I am looking forward to knowing more of you as the year progresses. I am looking forward, with everyone’s help, to a positive year of growth for our district and more importantly, our students.

We come together to embark as one, on a fresh start, a new school year. This is a challenging time in our district for all of us and it might be a critical time for us as an organization. As we all know, there have been changes, and there will likely be more… but I am certain that we will move forward and become better as a district. And when I say we, I mean everyone from the bus drivers to the teachers, the cafeteria workers to the aides, the maintenance staff to my office and everyone else who is an employee and a vital part of this organization.

We have been tasked with doing a job that requires us to be aware of our role as public servants, to work harder, to do more with less. And for what, you might be asking yourself. For the nearly 4,000 students who are enrolled in our district who are looking to you all to help prepare them for life. Be a mentor, not a friend. Model responsible adult values, exhibit self-control, choose your words carefully and consider the impact they may have on a particular student or group of students. For some of our children, you may be the only professional in their lives. You may be the only example of an adult for some of them, to see what it means to have someone care about their education, care about their progress, care about their future, but most importantly care about them as an individual.

I take these opening days pretty seriously, because like your first day of classes, it sets a tone for the year. I have used various messages in the past and have drawn from movies or songs or other educational guru’s ideas to set the stage for the new year.

After this wet summer with all the flooding lately, I wasn’t sure how a parody from a movie about snow and cold would go over looking forward to this school year. I hope this isn’t an omen. So I hope a parody from the children’s movie “Frozen” won’t jinx us. And for you guys in the audience, hang in there, we are not going to be singing “Let it Go,” although it would be a good theme for the last budget year!

In the production of “Frozen,” and if you did not recognize it this morning, there is a song called “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” But instead of prematurely referencing anything related to ice and snow, we can change the lyrics to ask you, “Do You Wanna Build a District?” And that is our theme for today. I am asking you to think about how we, in Keystone Central, are builders of this district. Each of us, through our skills, creativity and imagination, are building. We construct lessons, we scaffold learning and we foster enthusiasm. Through our work we are building the future — a future that starts here with every child. And so, if we change the words to the song, we can, I ask you, “Do you wanna build a district?” It can be everything we want it to be and better. I do not want the nay-sayers in the community to frame our district. If they did, this is what we may end up looking like as an educational institution!

While most are familiar with the princess movie that took the world by storm, not many know that “Frozen” actually has two directors. This would be completely unremarkable except for the fact that one of the directors actually started out as a writer on the project. Through the course of the movie development, Jennifer Lee did such great writing and offered such helpful feedback that the original director brought her on as a partner. Not only was this the first time in Disney history that a writer became a director on the same project, but Lee is also Disney’s first female director of an animated film. The lesson here? There is talent everywhere. Never assume that people in a certain role don’t also have talents in other areas. When we can pool our talents and encourage everyone to grow, we all benefit.

The second lesson from “Frozen” is a reminder to stay relevant. We are all familiar with the stereotypical princess who waits for her prince to come. We saw her in Snow White and Cinderella and even in some more recent fairy tales. But the two princesses in “Frozen” are not those kinds of girls. They don’t sit idly by waiting to be rescued. In fact, these princesses have adventures worthy of any hero. Moreover, the love depicted in “Frozen” isn’t the traditional boy meets girl and rescues her kind of story. Instead, we see love through the relationship of sisters and friends. This is a new move for Disney — and one that represents a population of people who want to see strong female role models. The lesson? Disrupt your business. We cannot do things the way they’ve always been done just because we have done it in the past. Not to harp on the past but our test scores need to move forward. We need to know our audience, appeal to what’s important to them, and build adventures in learning that open minds to new possibilities while fostering achievement.

And the third lesson from “Frozen”? Leadership is universal. While the female role in leadership is a theme in the movie, what eventually becomes of primary importance is saving the kingdom. Anna, with a big assist from Kristoff, gets the job done. She saves herself, her sister, and the kingdom. And in the process, viewers — even the boys — don’t care that Anna is a girl! The point is that given the chance, even the unexpected person can become a leader. How do we encourage that in Keystone Central? How do we nurture our students’ talents in ways that push them to lead? How do we do the same for each other?

I encourage you to begin the year with these lessons in mind. I ask you to think about the ways in which you — as a teacher, colleague, and mentor — may be frozen, or stuck… either in an idea, a methodology, or a pattern. How might you work on thawing out new ideas to use the many talents you have in positive, influential ways?

Keystone Central has a history we should be proud of. And when I talk about that history, there is excellence, I don’t only mean test scores. In fact, I think our true excellence can be found in the innovation we see in our schools and in our classrooms. You have made strides in the past and together, we can continue to make even greater strides. While I could name more than our time together allows, let’s consider some of the accomplishments we saw last year:

Keystone Central has a history we should be proud of. And when I talk about that history, there is excellence. I don’t only mean test scores. In fact, I think our true excellence can be found in the innovation we see in our schools and in our classrooms. You have made strides in the past and together, we can continue to make even greater strides. While I could name more than our time together allows, let’s consider some of the accomplishments we saw together last year:

– Mill Hall Elementary made television news with their “postcards around the globe” project.

– Michelle Hoy was selected as Inter-State Studio Teacher of the Year.

– Eight students earned their Certified Nurse Assistant credentials.

– Central Mountain Indoor teams (Color Guard and Majorettes) had an undefeated season and both became Atlantic Coast Champions.

– Central Mountain Middle School Mini-Thon raised more than $27k for the Four Diamonds organization.

– Annette Salisbury was selected as a Verizon “Teachers Rock” recipient.

– Two Central Mountain students designed and manufactured a prosthetic hand for a Mill Hall Elementary first grader.

“Nerds from Narnia” reading team earned a grand championship.

-The wrestling team won a District 6 crown and sent five wrestlers to the PIAA State Tournament.

– FFA students attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show and received $800 in awards.

– Two students qualified as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship.

– Track and Field sent two athletes to PIAA States.

– Drama had seven Ray of Light Award nominations.

– CMHS STEM Club was named “Best Innovation” at the regional Land, Air, Sea Challenge.

“Bucktail News 18” and CM Middle School “PacMan Animation” earned first place at the IU Computer Fair and competed at States.

– Cats against Cancer raised more than $3,000 for students in KCSD who are fighting the fight.

– CM Baseball won a district championship.

– CM Jazz Cats earned a Superior rating and were adjudicated at the national Music in the Parks festival.

– Gymnastics crowned an All-Around State Champion.

– SkillsUSA earned seven first-place finishes at districts, sent 12 students to states, and three students to nationals.

“Readers of the Lost Book” reading team became Grand Champions and the “Frindle-cious Faces on the Bookmark” brought home a first place.

– The PA Wilds Inspiring Youth Award was presented to Olivia Hanna.

5 Bucktail High School’s Anna Cowfer was crowned Flaming Foliage Queen.

– Clinton Softball All-Stars made it to the Pennsylvania State Little League Softball Tournament.

– Keystone Little League brought home two state championships.

These achievements — and there are so many more of them districtwide — demonstrate the talent, creativity, and skill that is present in all of our schools.

In addition to these student and staff accomplishments, we have also seen growth in many areas where teachers and staff are implementing new ideas. This innovation, in many cases, has been supported by the nonprofit Keystone Central Foundation, which is also dedicated to advancing student learning. The Foundation raised and generously donated almost $11,000 to our district this past year in response to requests from teachers for innovative programs like Projects Making Physics Fun, Explore the World of Engineering, Sixth Grade Music Class Guitar Unit, National Archery in the Schools Pro- Gram, Genetics Lab Kits, Tool Box Construction Kits, Aquaponics and Steam Study, News Production — Wirecast Software, Handwriting for Literacy and Community Based Integration Life Skills and Activities.

I applaud those teachers who applied for Foundation grants. And, I encourage you to keep the Foundation in your mind as a resource for innovative ideas. Members of the Foundation board are with us this morning — and I know they will be around to talk with you about the grant application process and how you can support their efforts with your contributions.

In advance of today, I asked the administrators to ask staff to share your ideas about Keystone Central. Specifically, we asked you to share a series of words or a phrase that you think describes us and we asked you to tell us why you enjoy working here. In today’s social media world, perhaps it would be these stories that could be used to define us — in 140 words or less, of course. Perhaps it would be these words or phrases that would get Keystone Central trending worldwide. Maybe we would even be featured on TV — dare I dream, even on The Late Show?

This is one example, “I left another school district with many years of experience to come to Keystone Central to be a part of MY community! I live in this community and my children attend school in Keystone Central. I LOVE that I can educate the children of the MY community! I love the connections I have made with the staff I work with as well as the families of the students I have the opportunity to educate. I see OUR students out and about in the community and I can be a positive point of contact for them. I work with an AMAZING team of teachers. These amazing teachers make Keystone Central an AWESOME place to work! I do not want to be anywhere else in the world to do what I LOVE to do — TEACH!”

To me this would read #awesome teacher!

Another example: “I didn’t grow up here, but I used to visit. My childhood view of the area was magical. Anything seemed possible in Lock Haven. In 2001 Clinton County became my home and my enamorment remained. The potential for this community is limitless. Physically we house all the ingredients for people to discover their passion and develop an expertise: higher education; incredible outdoor recreation; access to cultural events; athletic programs; a public library; an arts council; 4-H; professional theater… But most important are our human resources. We have a diverse people who can do ANYTHING and are willing to share.”

When this community breaks free from the yoke of entity responsibility and can mentor and interact as a whole organism we will be unstoppable. Imagine a whole passionate, creative, productive community. I do. Anything IS possible. To me, this one is #KCSDlimitless.

As you move through this year, I want you to think about what your personal hashtag might be. Maybe #supportivecolleague? Or #innovator or #lifesaver. I encourage you to think about yourself in this way because as we continue throughout the year, those personal hashtags will also become ones that define us collectively — as a district and a learning community.

Next year, the district will once again be involved in the development of a comprehensive plan. Some of you will remember this better under its former name: a strategic plan. Although the name has changed, the purpose of the plan remains the same — and that is to define our priorities. As a district, you will use the umbrella areas of our comprehensive plan to develop your annual goals and to set our direction and funding priorities over the next few years. There will be primary goal areas that will be developed collaboratively by the administrators, teachers, senior citizens, parents, and business partners who will be part of the Comprehensive Planning Committee. My role this year will help you lay some of the foundation of the path in developing that plan while looking to increase our student achievement. The goals I will be setting forth this year will include (summarized):

1. Ensure consistent implementation of high quality standards-aligned curricula and effective instructional practices across all schools and all classrooms for all students.

2. Ensure that quantitative and qualitative data is used to monitor student achievement, adjust instructional practices, and drive district-level goal-setting.

3. Ensure that there is a system in place that fully ensures students who are academically at risk are identified early and are supported by a process that provides interventions based upon student needs and includes procedures for monitoring effectiveness.

4. Ensure students have the skills and competencies needed to access, process, communicate, and create using a wide range of resources and technologies in order to succeed and lead in our local and global society.

5. Ensure a system is in place within the district that fully ensures opportunities to promote, enhance, and sustain a shared vision of positive school climate and ensures family and community support of student participation in the learning process. This goal area includes a focus on communication, but more importantly focuses on engagement and how we are increasing support for our schools. As we continue to engage community organization in active partnerships, we will also look for additional ways to bring community members into our schools and classrooms. We will look at how technology, specifically our web sites, can be used to inform our community about the events, happenings, and accomplishments in our schools. And we will welcome opportunities for face-to-face communication.

As I’ve said, these five goal areas will serve to provide the framework for our district goals. Those goals will encourage us to stretch and will push us to consider new ideas. But after working here last year I am confident that this Keystone Central staff is up for any challenge. I continue to have the utmost confidence in your skills, your talents, and your abilities. Every person in this district, in every employee group, plays a key role in how we “build” our district… how we ensure the success of every child and how we create a culture in which our mission comes to life. My thanks to all of you for the critical role you play in our work. I know it has already begun at the different levels and in the different buildings. Many of you will notice the GREAT INSTRUCTION = GREAT ACHIEVEMENT information around the district. Can it be as easy as this to help build this district? YES, it can.

As you leave this morning, I invite you to think about what was said here today. How you as an individual or you as a grade level or a building can start to build a district. Every one of us should be proud of the work he or she does and the young people whom we are working for. No one said it was going to be easy. But I believe we will rise to the challenge.

I believe that each and every one of you is dedicated to the outcome. The outcome that drives us. It’s why we are here.

Those outcomes are the educated, prepared, responsible students whom we have the privilege of knowing, teaching, and guiding. Remember to treat each and every student as if they were your own son or daughter and how you would like them to be treated, and then we will see some remarkable accomplishments.

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