As sure as we live in Michigan, there will be winter weather

We’ve enjoyed extended spring-like conditions well into November, but we can be assured that winter weather conditions will be here sometime soon. Possibly, as early as this weekend. After all, one year ago we already had 30 inches of snow. With that in mind, I feel it’s once again a good time to remind parents, students and staff about our communications plan for weather-related school closures.


First of all, unless an announcement is made by the district to close schools, always assume that schools will be open and if necessary, take extra precautions on getting to and from school in snow and ice. Michigan is a cold-weather state and winter snow and ice are to be expected. Schools will be closed only when a variety of conditions warrant doing so.

I am usually awake and up by 4:30 am throughout the cold-weather months analyzing various weather reports, talking to superintendents surrounding our district, and occasionally driving around to test the roads and sidewalks as the conditions may warrant. If there is a need to close schools due to weather conditions, I try my best to make that decision by 6:00 am and get the announcement out right away. Sometimes however, conditions worsen after 6 am and a later announcement might be necessary.

Once I make the decision to close schools, I typically follow a specific communications protocol for getting the message out:

1. Announcement is first posted on the district Facebook page ( and Twitter account ( I also copy the announcement to my personal accounts for those who friend or follow me.

2. Our emergency notification system or “robo call” will go to work getting the closure message to you through your primary contact information in your child’s Infinite Campus record. This includes a computerized message via telephone and/or email. If you do not answer the phone right away, a message will be left on your voicemail or answering machine. Please do not call the school back if you receive an automated call as its most likely no one will be in the office to answer your call at that hour. Check your voicemail, email or any of the other modes discussed above. The announcement goes out in both English and Spanish.

3. Announcement is sent to GRAIL WEB which then posts it on all area television and radio stations. You will hear it on the radio or see it in the trailer at the bottom of the television screen, but the fastest way to know for sure is to go to your favorite TV or radio station’s website.  Please remember that it will say GODFREY-LEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS if we are closed. Do not assume that just because Grand Rapids, Wyoming or Godwin schools are closed that our district is also closed. Conditions may warrant closures of other schools in other districts while ours remain opened.

4. The district’s web page ( will also contain the announcement.

If school is closed for the day, there may be additional announcements made later about any scheduled after-school or evening events. Sometimes the weather conditions in the morning warrant closing school but they improve during the day and we can still allow other events to go on as scheduled. If it’s clear that the conditions will not improve, an announcement will be made that includes cancelling all evening events. We keep it simple to avoid confusion.

On very rare occasions, it may become necessary to CLOSE SCHOOL EARLY and send children home. Every parent must have a plan ready in the event an emergency early closure should occur. If you are likely to not be available to pick up your children as you normally do, you will need an alternate plan for either someone else to pick them up or another location for them to walk. Your child should know what to do. If you need to contact the school to deliver instructions to your child, please do so but remember that many parents may be trying to call at the same time so be patient.

If you have concerns or questions about what to do in any emergency closure, please discuss them with your child’s school principal or teacher to be sure there is no confusion or misunderstanding. Our goal is to ensure  we have a clear and timely communication channel with every home that.

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HCD21 Update: Our persistent assumptions about school; are they valid?

Photo Nov 11, 15 34 04One of the many reasons our 1890s factory model of schools persists is our assumption that anything that’s been around this long must still have validity. After all, your great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and all of your aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends attended schools as we know them. They were (choose one: barely, mildly, sort of, greatly, wonderfully, etc.) successful so why shouldn’t my kids attend the same schools? Yes, why indeed?

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What we typically don’t do when we make this basest of all assumptions about what school should be for our the kids who are going through it right now is take a good look around the landscape and see what’s no longer there: the factories and manufacturing firms that needed millions of workers with a basic education. They are gone and what’s in their place these days requires an education for which our schools were not designed.

Well, that’s an assumption anyways. You see, the other part of the equation is trying to determine just what kind of education our kids need to succeed in a rapidly-changing world, where a vast majority of the jobs have not yet been created, but most certainly will not be the jobs of the past.

Schools often do things simply because they’ve always done them. The culture of any given school includes habits and systems that the people in it act out every day. Many of these habits are voluntary rather than mandated — teaching by age groups, for example, or making every period the same length, using bells to signal the beginning and end of periods, having all of the students facing the same direction with the teach in the front of the room, teaching math only in math class and history in history class, and so on. ~ Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D.,  Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. Viking, 2015, p. 57

Photo Nov 11, 16 37 28So the mission (“if we choose to accept it”) is to question deeply our assumptions about what is right and wrong with our schools today (not just Godfrey-Lee but all K-12 schools) and what might we change to better meet the needs of our kids. Our HCD21 leadership team will be hitting the road over the next 2-3 months to test our assumptions and gain greater empathy for the students, families, and staff as they wrestle daily with what they assume to be the purpose of education and how fundamentally intertwined our schools are with their daily lives and future dreams. This is the core of human-centered design and the inspiration for tackling the challenge of redesigning K-12 learning in our community. We have spent most of the fall framing our design challenge and focusing in on the problem that will continue to perplex us if we don’t carry through this process. And while our problem statement will be in flux as we validate or refute our assumptions in the coming months, it’s clear that it does drive toward ultimate impact, allows for a variety of solutions, and takes into account the context we work and live in.

There’s no better way to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you’re design for than talking with them directly. ~, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, 2015

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©2015 NewNorth Center for Design in Business Do not reproduce without permission.

Empathy is one of the most difficult things we wrestle with as humans. It’s exceptionally difficult to really understand what an individual is going through if we lack empathy skills. Many of us confuse empathy with sympathy.

Having sympathy for another is an act of kindness and compassion. Showing empathy for another is an act of service. With empathy, you extend yourself to meet another where they are and stop for a while to sit with them in their suffering. Both are necessary for your personal evolution, but empathy has the power to transform and elevate us while making the world a better place. ~

Once we complete our face-to-face interviews and simultaneously collect secondary research relative to redesigning our learning system, we’ll conduct a meta-data study of the findings to identify specific patterns that relate to our original design challenge and problem statement. If we’ve completed this next phase well, the patterns will guide us to prototypes that can be tested out during our summer 2016 programs and into the 2016-17 school year. While it’s only the beginning, it’s heading in the right direction because the future of our kids is straight ahead, not over our shoulders.

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The team will wrap up preparation work for the interview phase during a second consecutive four-hour session this coming week. In addition, as part of our efforts to gather feedback from various end-users of our education system, we’ll be showing the new documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, in the afternoon of December 3 for seniors at Lee High School, and in the afternoon of December 4 for our entire district staff. Adult members of the Godfrey-Lee community who would like to attend the Friday afternoon viewing and participate in the post-viewing discussion session should contact the Office of the Superintendent (241-4722 ext. 5320) for details.

This is a ground-breaking film that questions all of our assumptions about what school should be like, portrays empathy with students, parents and staff of an innovative school, and will help to focus our thinking and conversations as we move forward with our HCD21 re-design challenge.

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Michigan Department of Education cites Lee Middle & High School for being a Safe and Supportive School

Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Yields Promising
Results for 22 Michigan Priority High Schools
School Safety Scores Improve, Bullying Decreases and Graduation Rates Increase

November 2, 2015

LANSING – A five-year federal grant to improve climate, culture and learning at 22 Michigan Priority high schools contributed to 70 percent of those schools removing themselves from the state’s Priority List, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced today.

The U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) 2010-2015 Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) Grant also contributed to a 65 percent increase in the overall graduation rate and a 52 percent decrease in bullying incidences at the schools.

“These results are very promising, especially when you consider that these improvements were made at schools with significant challenges,” State Superintendent Brian Whiston said. “This is a real example of the impact a positive school environment can have on student achievement.”

In 2010, the USED authorized $155 million in grants to states to measure school safety and implement interventions to improve conditions for learning. The S3 Grant’s goal was to eliminate health and safety barriers in low-achieving high schools and increase the opportunity of academic success for all students.

Michigan and 10 other states were selected to receive grants. MDE received the largest grant award ($23.7 million over four years) of the 11 states funded, to provide programming for high schools with predominantly underserved adolescent populations. This grant allowed MDE to work with 22 Priority high schools and their staff, students, and families to address the conditions for learning and improve the culture and climate in their buildings.

At the end of the S3 grant, called think.respect., 65 percent of schools reported improved school safety scores. Schools with a positive change in school safety scores saw a graduation rate increase of 18 percent on average over the course of the initiative.

“Developing a warm, safe, and inviting school environment is crucial to maximizing student engagement, which, in turn, is essential to improving learning,” Whiston said. “It’s been extremely rewarding to see the evolution of the schools working within the S3 grant and the positive differences the changes have made in student performance.”

SE Grant Graph shoeing results of note at end of the fouth year of the grant

Corroborating the S3 program’s success, only 37 percent of Priority high schools not in the grant program came off the Priority List, compared to the 70 percent of S3 schools that did, in the five-year span.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of the S3 schools achieved Reward status, compared to only 12 percent of the non-S3 Priority high schools. 

Promising Practices

The S3 think.respect. grant yielded several promising practices for Michigan educators seeking to create a safe and supportive learning environment.

Building-level themes included:

• Embrace Change
• Be a Bold Leader
• Collect and Use Data
• Professional Development is Worth the Investment

For more information,

Priority Schools are in the bottom 5 percent of the statewide Top-to-Bottom School Rankings. Reward Schools are in the top 5 percent of schools on the Rankings; or are in the top 5 percent of schools making the greatest gains in achievement; or are “Beating the Odds” by outperforming the school’s predicted ranking and/or similar schools.

“As a result of our experience through the life of the S3 think.respect. grant, valuable lessons were learned,” Whiston noted. “It became evident that, in time, these efforts could be replicated in any building across the state whether there are grant funds or not. Our hope is that all schools across Michigan will look to create or strengthen a safe and supporting learning environment to better serve students and families.”

Through the S3 grant, participating schools used the Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY) survey to determine their specific programmatic needs. Schools accessed training, developed activities, hosted events, and facilitated learning around those specific areas. This allowed schools to address their individual needs while working within a framework of evidence-based programs. Seven main initiatives were developed for schools to use based on need. These included: Eliminating Barriers for Learning (Mental Health); Parent Engagement; Student Engagement; Bully-free Schools: Circle of Support, Restorative Justice, and Creating Safe Schools for Sexual Minority Youth; and Michigan Model for Health™. 

Participants in the S3 think.respect. grant were:

• Beecher Middle High School (Mt. Morris)
• Benton Harbor High School (Benton Harbor)
• Bloomingdale Middle/High School (Bloomingdale)
• Clintondale High School (Clinton Township)
• Elisabeth Ann Johnson High School (Mt. Morris)
• Fitzgerald High School (Warren)
• Harper Woods High School (Harper Woods)
• Eastern High School (Lansing)
• Harry S. Truman High School (Taylor)
• Lee Middle and High School (Wyoming)
• Marion Jr./Sr. High School (Marion)
• Mumford High School (Detroit)
• New Haven High School (New Haven)
• Pershing High School (Detroit)
• Pontiac Academy For Excellence (Pontiac)
• River Rouge High School (River Rouge)
• Robichaud High School (Dearborn Heights)
• Ross Beatty High School (Cassopolis)
• Saginaw High School (Saginaw)
• Southeastern High School (Detroit)
• Ypsilanti Community High School (Ypsilanti)
• Ypsilanti New Tech High School (Ypsilanti)

For more information and additional results on the S3 Grant, please visit

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HCD21 Update: Off to see the Wizard

I’m assuming anyone who reads this is familiar with the epic movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” I have found that our early work with human-centered design in our K-12 redesign project is analogous with some of the main ideas and lessons found in Dorothy’s journey.

  • It took the “perfect storm” to move Dorothy (“and her little dog, too) from what the movie portrayed as gray and dusty  (yes, she loved her family but was struggling with typical growing up on the farm issues) to a seemingly happy place full of color, music and wonderment. Yet, there was an undercurrent of oppression and control because of who controlled the Land of Oz at the time.
  • Dorothy’s landing in Oz may have changed much of the scenery at first, and it was thought she may have freed the Munchkins from this oppression when she accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East, but her evil sister appeared to remind us that change is often just a perception and merely dabbling around the edges.
  • Dorothy could have easily remained in Munchkin Land and perhaps lived out an seemingly enjoyable life, but she instinctively longed for home and took the advice to “follow the Yellow Brick Road” and seek out the Wizard of Oz. Having no idea what lay ahead, she chose to do just that despite the possibility that her journey would not be easy, and fraught with potential pitfalls. She did not know what the end would bring so she had to have an insurmountable faith in the process.


  • Along the journey, Dorothy learned much about herself as well as the needs of others (the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion). That accumulated knowledge helped strengthen her resolve and develop empathy for the others. Each of the four had diverse goals that required respect from the others and a resolve to complete the journey on behalf of each other despite the risks.
  • Along the way, the Wicked Witch of the West and even the Wizard of Oz threw obstacles in their path, but their determination remained steadfast and they relied on each other to succeed.
  • Some might say that Dorothy’s desire to return to Kansas was backwards. Why should she want to return to that gray and dusty place when she had the beauty of Emerald City at her feet (literally)? To her, basic premise of “home” was a part of her being being but when she finally did wake up back in Kansas, the lessons she learned from her journey changed dramatically how she saw her home, her family and her life in general.

Human-centereuD8Ngarbsd2QvNafRivCkXovGKQLeyQzsj1op2nn00gd design is as much about the journey as it is the goals. It’s a problem-solving method that requires faith in the process and the tools used at each step of the way. While it’s helpful to know the steps that lie ahead, we have to forego any natural desire to “see” what’s ahead at the finish. Instead, we have to recognize the value of each part of the journey in adding to our understanding of what our stakeholders want the outcome to be, increase our empathy for each other, accept the diversity of perceptions and ideas, fight through obstacles as best we can, and stay focused on solving the pressing problems of our 124-year-old school structures.

As Dorothy and her friends found out, everyone is scared at times and it takes courage tomeet the challenges head on. They also learned that many of the answers to those challenges are already in their hands and don’t require the use of fancy shoes, medals for courage, a ticking heart-shaped clock, or a fancy diploma. The synergy inherent in bringing everyone together for the same purpose along with acquisition of important knowledge is often enough.

The key is staying focused on the problem despite circumstances and new infopt_0nG61Ykln0qVHlJsvdy6G-yeDhES8ajZ9rThQHiYrmation that may alter how the problem is perceived, and realizing that along the way new problems may crop up that require attention. Our HCD21 leadership team, which has been meeting weekly since September, has experienced this several times. This past week, we settled (for now) on a simple wording of the central problem: How might we create a structure that helps students learn best?  It will likely be modified as we continue our quest, especially as more and more stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, administrators and members of the general community — give input to guide us along the path.

And where are we on this “yellow brick road” journey. The chart below displays the basic steps and quadrants for the work of the district over the next two years, thanks in great part to the generous grant received from the Steelcase Foundation.

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HCD “problem solving approach” developed by NewNorth Center

As you might guess from my analogy, we’re still primarily in “Munchkin Land” squarely (pun intended) in the center of this map, although we have taken measures to begin learning about the people and context that help frame the problem as well as the journey. This week, we’ll do some work questioning our assumptions looking for bias and anything else that might impede our journey and ultimately prevent us from reaching our goals. The following week, we’ll look at the process and tools for conducting stakeholder interviews over the months of December through March, along with the work of accumulating secondary research about learning and school structures. All of this work will point towards specific patterns that will guide us into exploring solutions, developing prototypes and testing them out.

Follow the yellow brick road.

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HCD21 Update: Identifying and mapping stakeholders

Over the last couple of weeks, we have narrowed our problem statement down to something that reads like this:

Our learning culture is relevant to us now and in the future. It helps us create meaning. Student success is at the core, providing opportunities, support and tools to meet our academic and personal needs.

You might have read this over a couple of times and are thinking, “What’s the problem? These all sound like good things!”  Precisely.  The problem is that in most traditional K-12 settings, these are not occurring consistently for every child. Additionally, teachers, administrators and parents don’t necessarily believe it’s true across the board. That’s not to say that some good and even great things aren’t going on in our schools, but the vision reflected here is not the everyday norm. Our problem is framed by how we look at the gap between reality and this vision to determine what needs to change.

But before we start designing new systems and processes for our K-12 structure, we have a lot of work to do validating, supporting, revising and refuting all or parts how we’ve framed the problem. This will involve several months of interviewing a variety of people and groups who are part of our district or connected in other ways. We want to know how these constituents think, feel and even do related to our district. To what extent do they value our schools, how do they see education as impacting them, and what do they envision education should be?

We create healthy and resilient communities by relying on the wisdom and wealth available in our people, traditions and environment. ~ Wheatley & Frieze, “Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. Berrett-Koehler. 2011.

We won’t be able to interview everyone, so the team’s coming challenge is to identify appropriate and inspirational participants representing a wide spectrum of views and ideas, beliefs, behaviors and perspectives. At the same time, the team will identify the types of research methods that will be used to gather this input while also mining available research to help inform the process.

Jason from NewNorth Center describes the process the team used for identifying and mapping stakeholders

There are many people associated with our schools in some capacity or other. The most obvious are students, teachers, administrators and parents. But as the the following initial “stakeholder map” illustrates, when you take time to really think about it, our education system is impacted by hundreds! Each has their own viewpoint, beliefs and vision regarding what school is about and each are able to weigh in on what they feel is the problem with education today.

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Godfrey-Lee Public Schools initial stakeholder mapping

Many of these stakeholders can be grouped into related areas with similar connections, such as: students, parents, teachers/coaches, teacher interns, school board, school administration, support staff, early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, community partners, community neighbors, investors, post-high school institutions, government, employers, health care providers, vendors, social services, churches, local and regional businesses, cultural groups, online social-networks, municipal services, and even destinations for student field trips. The stakeholder map is an initial attempt to identify specific individuals and groups within each of these, including what we believe is a summary (thought-bubble) of thoughts or feelings that represent their point of view. The  next step will be mapping linkages by connecting each through various relationships and interactions, the goal being to ensure that each grouping of similar people are ultimately represented during the interview phase.

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Award recognizes the good work of our bands!

Congratulations to Director Kevin Gabrielse and our Lee High School Band!

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HCD21 Update: What’s in a word?

During last week’s HCD21 session, I realized that we typically identify what we believe to be root problems by approaching them “head on.” Statements like the following are often thought to be the problem:

  • My kids are not paying attention
  • Student achievement scores are too low in our school
  • High school students are just not engaged

While they represent visible manifestations of underlying problems, the reasons are often  hidden and require a different approach to uncover. To frame the problem more precisely, our leadership team began with what is we want the end-users of our schools (students, teachers, parents) to feel, think and believe on the other end of the learning process.

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One example statement from our work: Our learning is relevant to us now and in the future; it helps us create meaning.

This might be a comment we’d like to overhear from students or teachers. The very fact that it boils up as a vision of what we want implies it’s not evident in our schools right now. At least not at a level we accept. This type of statement frames the work we need to do to determine the root causes and create new insights that can lead to actionable prototypes of solutions.

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But before proceeding, our work last week centered on ensuring we define the various key words used to describe our vision. For example, what does relevant mean to us? What do we mean when we say create meaning? Having a common understanding of the language we use to frame the problem ensures we share the same reference points when framing the problem. The photos on this page illustrate the process we took in developing initial consensus.

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We are getting closer to the point where we’ll be inviting many others to participate in our work including a substantial ethnographic study that will feature individual and focus group interviews that in some ways should validate what we’ve accomplished thus far as well as shine more light on how our school system is doing from the viewpoints of various end-users. Our mission this fall and throughout the winter months is to ensure we’ve discovered the very root causes that prevent all of our students from achieving the level of success that helps them reach their goals and dreams. From there we can begin to redesign and test new structures and processes that will bring our district, schools and classrooms into the 21st century.

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