Thoughts from Our Superintendent

July, 2019 Climbing Trees

Climbing Trees

One Year In…

And A View From The Top

 

I’ve had some crazy neighbors during my lifetime.  It’s probably not fair to characterize all of them that way, so let’s just say that many of the people I grew up around were more adventurous than I was.  The Van Buhler’s certainly fit into that category.

I grew up in the burbs.  Rochester is my home town and the place I was born.  It certainly wasn’t the affluent bedroom community that it is today.  The Van Buhlers had the second largest family on the block of Woodward Avenue; five kids, back when the birthrate in this country was like a well-oiled machine.  The only family that had more kids was mine.  Seven kids.  Three sets of twins and one single.  Crazy eh?  God Bless you, Mom and Dad.

The Van Buhlers and Newmans were all pretty close in age; an eclectic blend of brothers and sisters who had fun, fought way too much with one another and at the end of the day, LISTENED TO THEIR PARENTS (Are you hearing me kids?). 

We grew up in a time when there were no cell phones or any digital distractions.  It was a time of freedom and exploration.  It was also a time when your son or daughter could ride their bikes downtown and you didn’t have to worry about them.  A lot has changed since then.

The Van Buhlers and Newmans literally “owned” that small patch of Woodward Avenue back in the day.  All of us were athletes, and the backyard carnivals and baseball games on Woodward Elementary’s baseball diamond were both classic and legendary.  Mark and Chris Van Buhler had a particular penchant for climbing trees.  And before the Japanese Maples became vogue in the now grandiose Hills of Rochester, there were these gigantic oaks and birch trees which stood close to one-hundred feet tall. 

I can still picture myself sitting in my back yard and watching Mark and Chris scale these enormous and majestic trees until they reached the top.  When they did, they used to wrap their bodies around the thin top of the trunk and make the trees sway back and forth like Silverback Gorillas.  I thought that was both the coolest and craziest thing I had ever seen.  It gave me “chicken skin” (JLo calls that getting the “goosies”) watching them do this incredibly dangerous stunt and it actually made my feet tickle.

Again, I’m not the most adventurous guy on the planet.  I’m the one who reserves spots in line for my wife and our friend Mountain Man Jim at Cedar Point then never goes on any of the rides.  I prefer to have my feet firmly planted on Mother Earth, thank you very much.

However, that does NOT adequately describe ME when it comes to my current role.  When it comes to my job as your superintendent, I’m less concerned about risks than I am about results.  And if that takes an unconventional approach, I’m all in.    THIS is where I find my inner daredevil spirit and inspiration.  This is where I become bold and try to be like Superman.

For a number of years running, Caro has been stuck.  We’ve been academically jammed squarely in the middle of the county with regard to our students’ performance on standardized tests.

We can do better.

And we need to figure that out.  Quickly!!!

I believe we have the best students in the world.  Intelligent, courteous, respectful, artistic and talented.  There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t take a chance on our kids.  There’s no reason why we shouldn’t employ unconventional methods, put ourselves out there and do everything we can to encourage our kids to reach for the skies.  We simply cannot let the ones who might be too afraid miss out on the adventure of learning. 

Ever think about where this world would be without our “Neil Armstrongs”?

My father-in law was an adrenaline junkie.  He lived life on his terms and never apologized for having fun or being happy. 

I called him “Pops”, and we were blessed to have him live with us for the last seven years of his life.  In April, he lost his life in a fatal ATV accident in which he successfully avoided what would have been a fatal collision with his grandson.  So that means he also went out on his own terms, and I know he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

Risk 

Reward

Priorities 

 

That’s really what life is all about.  Isn’t it?

Recently the staff planted a tree in honor of Pops outside the new auditorium.  I don’t think anyone realizes how fitting that tribute was on so many levels.  I’m anxious to see how it grows.

I am so unbelievably content and happy to have landed here in Caro.  We WILL continue to do everything we can to drive student achievement and kick open the doors for opportunities for your kids.  We probably won’t do anything as crazy as swinging from the top of an oak tree, but we will NEVER be afraid to risk everything for kids.  They’re too important.

We Are Caro!

And We Can!

Have a great summer everyone!

 

Superintendent Newman

March, 2019 Now What?

Now What?

The Writing Appears To Be On Walls That May Never Get Built


Whoah Nellie!!!!  This is like doing your taxes and finding out you’re only getting half of what you thought you’d get.  The bitter disappointment (and fear) in the crowded Commissioners Board Room on Tuesday morning was palpable.

So let me see if I got this straight.  In 2017, the proud City of Caro (where folks still look you in the eye when they shake your hand) partnered with the State to bring a psychiatric-health facility to the Thumb, which would create a number of much-needed jobs and provide vital human services to the area.  Right?  Then in October of 2018, a silver spade shovel symbolically pierced the ground at the proposed site for this hospital further demonstrating and solidifying that commitment to the people of this very important region.

Do I have that right?

The one thing I know about “Carotians” is that they deliver.  If they say they’ll fix something; it gets fixed.  If they promise to support you; that support is unconditional.  And if you ask them to make a commitment to kids or to their community, they’ll be the first in line.  So it’s incredibly disheartening to me that for some reason the State and newly-elected Governor Whitmer have decided to slam the brakes on this important project before it has a chance to get started.  The negative economic impact on this community, the county and the region will be undeniable.  Anyone with “Coke bottle” glasses would be able see that.

So what changed?  What happened, or what significant event occurred that was so incredibly unfavorable to this project to make the State apathetically “walk back” its pledge to help grow jobs and provide mental health services to the people of Tuscola County?

If it’s just about the water, that can be fixed.  That certainly isn’t an Apollo 13 scenario that Caro people would worry about. Is it the location?  I thought one of the citizens, who made a courageous and impassioned plea for reason at the meeting on Tuesday, absolutely nailed it when he said that people who are trying to get well probably don’t need the ‘hustle and bustle’ of a city as a distraction.  To the contrary, Caro would offer the kind of tranquil environment that may actually accelerate the healing process.

If someone can argue with that kind of logic, have at it.

Caro (and Tuscola County) aren’t backing down from their commitment to this project.  Their word is as strong as any steel you can manufacture and as sure as the Sun coming up in the morning.  In the span of a decade, Caro passed two bond issues in support of education.

Just imagine for a moment if we, as a District, waffled on any of the promises we made to our kids or to this community.

Think about what would have happened if we refused to use the money from the most recent bond to build an auditorium.  What if we hired teachers who we knew weren’t qualified?  What if we took away the athletics or fine arts programs?  What if we decided that we didn’t want to invest in technology?  Or Heaven forbid, what if we told everyone to find their own way to school and decided not to provide transportation?

The devastating impact not building this facility will have on the entire region is difficult to accurately estimate.  One could certainly argue that it would be tantamount to the suggested slashing of services that were just mentioned, and the effects would be long-term.

I’ve seen this kind of thing up close.  Some of you may be familiar with what happened in Oscoda, Michigan when Wurtsmith Air Force Base closed in 1993.  Many Oscodians will tell you (and they’d be speaking the truth) that Oscoda once was the “jewel” of the northeast coast of Michigan; a summer destination for families from all across the State.  Then, as a result of base realignment, the decision was made to shut Wurtsmith down.

Some liken it to a bomb being dropped on Oscoda when that happened, and the entire region was affected.  Although they have struggled admirably to return to some sense of civic pride and dignity, there unfortunately is little (if anything today) in Oscoda which resembles its proud past and iconic status as a Michigan tourism giant.  Only the lingering desolation of that decision remains.  That was over 25 years ago.

If this facility doesn’t get built, I have no doubt whatsoever that Caro will survive.  Caro is too tough and resilient not to weather that kind of blow.  However, the people of Caro have questions, and they demand reasonable, forthright and immediate answers.

The determination for any proposed site (especially for a facility like this one) undergoes a comprehensive vetting process.   Before anyone one alerts the press, hits the ground with a shovel, or ultimately cuts ceremonial ribbons at the opening, they are pretty gosh darned sure the location is a perfect fit.

One of the questions that may be raised will be this:  “If Caro was the perfect spot for this hospital just two short years ago, what makes it less than ideal now?”  What has actually changed?

The infrastructural issues that were initially ironed out in the planning phase undoubtedly haven’t changed.  Those would be and WILL be addressed.

Was it the election?  Is it because Tuscola County may traditionally lean a certain way politically?  That was a salient point that was brought up at the meeting.

Man oh man,….if that’s the case, then those are some super bad optics for the State.  If this particular facility goes to say, Oakland or Genesee County instead of here, how in the world will people assume that it was not politically motivated?

At best, the move from Caro (to a place like Holly) will look like deliberate political indifference toward this region.  At worst, it may be perceived as geographical political discrimination.

Caro and the surrounding areas in Tuscola County find themselves at a critical and tenuous juncture.  The absence of high-paying jobs and solid economic opportunities have created a conspicuous negative migration from the area in the last ten years.  The county birth rate has plummeted as a result of people leaving, which in turn has created a steady decline in student enrollment.

If elected officials were to see what we are doing by exposing our kids to future “cutting edge” green technologies, industry and opportunities, perhaps they may see the efficacy of supporting such important initiatives and reconsider the option of moving this facility.

Just as the thumb is critical to the overall function of the hand, so too is this region’s economic stability vital to the operation of the State.

I urge everyone to contact their local representatives, sign petitions,…heck, knock on doors if necessary to get the word out and let your voices be heard!  Let’s force the State to do the right thing and build this hospital here.  Promises should be kept.

WE ARE CARO!

AND WE CAN!!!!

 

List of Elected Officials’ Contacts:

Phil Green RepPhilGreen@house.mi.gov

Kevin Daley SenKDaley@senate.michigan.gov

Paul Mitchell https://mitchell.house.gov

Debbie Stabenow https://www.stabenow.senate.gov/contact

Gary Peters https://www.peters.senate.gov/contact/email-gary

January, 2019 Check 'Em or Chuck 'Em

Check Em’ Or Chuck Em’ 

The challenges we ALL face in protecting kids from the “Anti-Social” Network and Smartphones


I’m not sure where I was when it first hit me that the marketing campaigns for the next generation of cell phones were altogether different from what everyone was used to.  Gone were the days of the “Can you hear me now?” approach.  Instead, and without apologies or very little regard for how the commercials came across, cellular phone companies were openly peddling a paradigm shift from devices that made life convenient and organized, to MACHINES that you can’t live without.  In fact, the ads made you feel that it was almost “shameful” to have anything but the latest and greatest phone, with an abundance of applications and the power to provide endless and instant gratification.

I can vividly remember saying to myself, “My goodness!  It’s like Beatlemania out there. These people look like they’re waiting in line to ride the next new mega-coaster at Cedar Point!”  I didn’t get what all the fuss was about.  But I knew it was different.

I was a Blackberry guy, and was more than satisfied with the phone provided to me by my previous employer.  It was big, durable, and what I thought was technologically “ahead of its time.”  I could (EASILY) send and receive emails, schedule and be reminded of appointments on an organized calendar, and even check the box scores on ESPN.  What more could a man my age, with limited interest in hopping on the “21st Century Techno-Train”, possibly need?

So what could these new fandangled smartphones give me that my trusted Blackberry couldn’t?  Whoop!!!!  I learned pretty quickly how naïve that seemingly easy rhetorical question would be answered; especially in my role as a high school principal.  The answer was everything!

What I immediately discovered was that these devices were no longer phones.  They were handheld computers.  Significantly more technologically advanced than their predecessors, they provided a faster and vastly improved means of communication.  They also offered (at warp speed mind you) the satisfaction of our curiosity; something that our culture (heck,…the entire world) probably didn’t need in every and in all circumstances.  And this newfound capability probably blew beyond the point where these devices were originally intended to go (or maybe should have gone).

THESE THINGS ARE POWERFUL!!!

Complete with high speed processors and embedded with a number of “Google-like” search engines, it goes without saying that they have dramatically evolved in both function and design.

So how does someone who is impressionable (like a kid) play with a new, expensive and extravagant toy?  They explore.  They navigate.  Then they inevitably go where they don’t belong.  That’s the world in which we now find ourselves as adults, educators and parents.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”  Well, as adults in the 21st Century, it appears we have been given a new and demanding task.  For all of their conveniences, including the ability to track our kids’ physical whereabouts, there is also this enormous responsibility to protect our kids from a world of “Techno-Chaos”, which includes: cyber-bullying, possible attacks to their self-esteem, and exposure to an adult world they have no business seeing or experiencing.

Because kids appear completely passive while on these mini-computers, we get lulled into a false sense of security.  It’s not our fault.  I believe it’s actually by design.  Tell me if the following scene has played out in your world:  Three kids who have agreed to spend some time together, become seemingly comatose to the rest of the world and spellbound by the device they are holding three inches away from their faces.  They aren’t engaged in conversation.

They’re not looking at what another.  They have their blinders on, and are simply sending and receiving, liking or disliking, and friending or “un-friending”.  It’s like we’re witnessing a remake of the cult classic, “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” in real time.  Even more disarming, these Zombie-like effects are in fact, TANGIBLE!

The addictive nature of these handheld champions of convenience and curiosity can also cause a number of health-related problems.  Not only are they mildly radioactive, but they are also very damaging to the eyes (digital eye strain), can cause headaches and negatively affect healthy sleep patterns which cause a variety of other emotional health issues.  And don’t even get me started about the dangers of distracted driving.

However, the greatest threats to kids (because they’re kids and they either don’t know any better, or don’t believe it’s important enough to care) are socially-related.  This is where “the rubber hits the road” and the addictive properties of smartphones really kick in, because the majority of kids are simply ill-equipped to handle the emotional warfare these machines can create.  That’s where we see it in schools.  Without a doubt and without fail, cell phones completely exacerbate apparently simple problems between students and turn them into full-blown confrontations.

None of this stuff is new.  As adults, we have all learned to adapt to these issues and have tried a number of different strategies to try and combat the negative impact of smartphones.  I guess the one thing I would remind parents is this:  Despite the hyper-possessive mentality, and sense of self-worth smartphones produce in our kids, YOU are the parent.  In nearly every circumstance, you OWN that phone (and even if you don’t, you’re still the parent).  You pay for it every month, and it is legally incorrigible for your son or daughter not to surrender it to you when you ask for it.  I know; much easier said than done.  I get it. But if you aren’t going to protect your child from the “cyber-vice” borne out of the “Anti-Social Network”, I’m not sure who is.

Staying up-to-date on the technology you’ve placed in your child’s hands is so incredibly important.  More than that, having the courage to demand to see your child’s phone, no matter how “lame” or invasive that action is viewed, is the only way to truly safeguard the ones you love.

There are a number of really dangerous social media apps out there which target your kids; they’re likes, dislikes, insecurities and emotional naiveté.  The designers of these apps are fully aware of what they’re doing.  They care very little about the dangerous exploitation of young people.  They only care about the “bottom line”.  They arrogantly assume it’s OUR job to pick up the pieces after their app has completely blown a kid’s world apart.  And unfortunately, they’re right.  It is our job, and working in tandem with one another on this social crisis will be the only way to effectively combat it.

Trust is important in every relationship.  Nothing else happens genuinely without it.  How you establish that trust with your child should be unique, and it’s completely your business.  But one of the non-negotiables that has to be established is that you WILL (with their knowledge) randomly and frequently check their phones.  Unfortunately, I have had way too many parents over the years regret not taking this very important step in their relationships with their kids.

In the end, all it really means is that you love them and you care about what’s going on with them.  Checking your kid’s phone doesn’t make you a bad person.  It only proves that you’re a loving parent, and it may actually force your child to monitor their own behavior.

WE ARE CARO!

AND WE CAN!

Some of the social media apps that you should research and immediately check for on your children’s phones are:  Houseparty, Tinder, Ask.fm, Kik Messenger, Voxer, Snapchat, Vsco, Vine, Whisper, Tumblr, Instagram and Look.

September, 2018 Inner Roar

2018: Time To Find Our Inner Roar

There’s No Time NOW To Show Everyone What We’re Made Of


Well?  Where the heck is all the rain!?!?

The summer of 2018 has certainly reminded us that some things (like the weather) are simply beyond our control.  There’s an old adage that says, “It’s not about how bad you want it,…it’s about how hard you are willing to work for it.”  The sheer size of the corn this year will almost require a week-long monsoon from Mother Nature just to combat the current dry spell.  But until those skies open up, area farmers will be forced to do everything in their power to produce the highest possible yield; demonstrating yet again what it means to have some steel in your spine.

In many ways, this is a pivotal year for the district.  Now please don’t mistake me here.  Every year in education is important.  But this year, particularly in Caro, the forecast is a favorable one.  After weathering some pretty difficult financial times, the district (thanks in large part to the Board’s fiscal prudence) is in a very healthy position.

It’s not often enough that districts are able to provide students and teachers with the kinds of tools we will have in abundance this year.  We have significantly augmented the services provided by The Institute of Excellence in Education with their Focused Instructional Model in math.  We have greatly enhanced our overall assessment program; adding Illuminate DnA and the DRC Beacon Assessment System.  We have also partnered up with one of the finest non-profit, anti-bullying organizations in the country in Rachel’s Challenge.

So the stage is set.  The conditions are right.  The question will be: “How hard are we willing to work?”

Are we more “reach” than roar?

In 2017, Caro ranked sixth out of nine (9) area districts in student achievement, and were below the State average on 14 of the state’s 20 standardized tests (we’re still awaiting the 2018 results from this past spring).  Believe me when I tell you that I (probably more than most) understand the impact unpredictable variables can have on student outcomes; especially test results.  And I’ve never been interested in playing the “Blame Game”.  Education and parents receive enough scrutiny today.

But no one can tell me they wouldn’t rather be first than sixth on that list.  Can they?  No one would actually suggest we couldn’t be first.  Right?

It’s no secret that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement.  We definitely have some all-star talent here in Caro.  Just think about the skills required to be a teacher, which are so often taken for granted.  Teachers are not just content-area experts.  They are: psychologists, social workers, coaches, artists, scientists, politicians, writers, engineers, musicians, advocates, and comedians.  They are the backbone of our public education system.  But they need hungry minds to feed.

I certainly believe we have plenty of those.

WE ARE CARO!

AND WE CAN!

I have been incredibly impressed with the kids I’ve met in Caro.  I attended the 6th Grade Wonder Fair in May and was blown away by one group’s presentation on the vehicular history of American wars.  Sixth graders!  That’s heavy duty right there.  How about the Caro High School Envirothon Teams which qualified for the State competition?  Or the students who belong to the Schall Coding Club?

We absolutely have the right kind of talent (both behind and in front of the teachers’ desks) that should be completely unintimidated by standardized tests.  It’s high time we start wanting to prove it.

Schools are very structured and “purposeful” places.  I can’t imagine driving into work and not knowing exactly what my purpose is for that day.  Think about it.  The only time schools become chaotic environments is when people fail to plan ahead.  I guess that’s all I’m asking people (teachers, students, cooks, secretaries, et al) to do.  Be prepared.

For everything there is a season.  Let’s get off to an unbelievable start this fall, which will build the kind of endurance we need for the winter and ultimately lead to a celebratory and triumphant spring.

We CAN do this.  Because we’re Caro.

See you soon!

July, 2018 Grand Plans

Grand Plans

Caro Lives Up To Its Billing. And a whole lot more.


I’ve never stood next to a Lamborghini, but I can imagine I’d be pretty impressed.

I’ve always been struck (as most people are) by big, extravagant and grandiose things. In fact, my travel bucket list includes such places as the Grand Canyon, Fenway Park in Boston, a Hawaiian volcano (unless it’s active), and a variety of other heavenly and wondrous creations.

But I’ve always been equally fascinated with intricate details. True beauty is found in the finer points. The kind no one seems to notice, but seem to explain everything.

Did you know that Lamborghinis come with individually painted carbon-ceramic brake discs? They actually come in six colors: black, orange, silver, red, yellow and green.

When I made the decision to apply to Caro Community Schools, it wasn’t without some soul-searching. After all, it would mean potentially leaving the highest achieving district in Northeast Michigan and a community of decent, hard-working, God-fearing and fun-loving Americans in Tawas.

I’d be walking away from some of the most outstanding kids I’ve ever known, and people who I didn’t just work with, but who I genuinely cared about, and count as life-long friends.

So if I was going to make this monumental jump, it had to be to some place unique; a place that was spectacular in its own right.

The Lamborghini comes equipped with hand-crafted and diamond encrusted wheel center caps that say, “Made In Italy”. (Not sure why you'd advertise that,...but ok.)

When I hung my first left onto Kinney Road leading into Caro, I got a little "shell-shocked". I definitely recall the first word that came tumbling out of my half-opened mouth was:

"Whoah!!!" I think the second word was "Cool!!!”.

Caro isn't just a farming town. That would be selling it short and actually be too simplistic of a description.

C'mon. Let's be honest.

Caro is more like a community built on the big and broad Midwestern Shoulders of Agriculture than it is a "farming town". These are NOT the collective farms you see outside and in the green-belts of cities.

This place is NO JOKE!!!!

The farms are meticulously groomed and majestically monstrous with a hint of "don't tread on me" embedded in the landscape. Even the older barns (not to be confused with the Arthur T. Sayers red Cadillac on Gilford) look like they have a purpose; like they were made for struggling artists to cut their teeth on.

Look deeper into Caro. What you'll find is a town bursting with charm, personality and all of the cultural amenities you'd get from a big city. One which will make you realize you're in a place that takes great pride in the folks who grew up here, and who also keep the economy healthy, growing and vibrant.

I'm not from Caro...but MY GOODNESS,....I can understand why those of you who are have stayed. Steve Clark told me on Commencement night that you can see the whole valley from the football stadium press box. I made a point of checking that out for myself recently.

And IT IS STUNNING.

With ballfields to the back of me and rolling fields of green in front of me, I fully grasped and appreciated how special the environment in which I found myself is. That "nook" has actually become my "thinking spot". A place where I can truly understand the sacrifices that have been made, and a place for me to figure out how I might be able to reciprocate.

A Lamborghini costs in excess of $500 thousand dollars. Why? Seems excessive, no?

Not every community thinks it’s a Lamborghini. But the ones who are, don’t waste their time bragging about it. They’d rather just show you what they can do. Caro does that without the fanfare that it probably deserves.

I truly appreciate the faith that this community has placed in me and I will never take that for granted. By my third day coming into work, it already felt like I’d been here for years. It was that comfortable.

As the Superintendent of Caro Community Schools, it is my responsibility to make sure the students of this school system you have created turns out well-educated, forward-thinking and well-meaning citizens. I intend to that. And I can't wait to get started.

Every Caro kid I've met has been respectful, smart and amazing. It's a testament to this community that kids understand how important it is to make that kind of impression on people who don't know how great this place is. That makes it even more incumbent upon me to pull that rope in the same direction.

I was introduced to my first Steinway on April 26th in an auditorium I didn't think was structurally or financially possible. What an incredibly symbolic affirmation of this community's will and spirit. A STEINWAY!!! That’s like the “Lambo” of pianos. And duly inspired, I have grand plans. Because I know what’s possible.

Dean Tomlinson, the President of the Board of Education thought it was necessary for me and my wife to be at this event and coupled it with a meet and greet that blew us away. His prescience absolutely justifies his current role as Board President.  Dean, along with the rest of the Board, love this district and are it's biggest supporters and cheerleaders.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to lead Caro Community Schools. My job is to make it the best district in the State, and that's what I fully intend to do.

I WILL push your kids. But I know they can handle it. Kids from Caro know what it means to work hard. They'll get our best efforts, and all I want is theirs in return.

I will be very accessible, so feel free to call me, or come into the office for a chat.

WE ARE CARO!
AND WE CAN!