Thursday, August 20, 2015

Convocation 2015: Values Keep Every Child the Focus of District’s Work

In they streamed, morning and afternoon, excited and eager to get the school year started. Most had been on campuses for days if not weeks, getting classrooms, buildings, grounds, books and programs ready for the return of students, still over a week away.

And if the optimism was palpable before Convocation 2015 got underway, it was positively electric following the program.

Centered around Every Child but building on each of Spring Branch ISD’s five core values, from start to finish Convocation 2015 celebrated the student. Former students emceed the program. Student speakers shared dreams and aspirations, and let district staff know they – staff – matter. Student musicians performed in bands, in chorus, in drumlines – even solo.

Student voices were heard on the large video screens, voices that punctuated moments throughout the program. In a special video, student – and staff – faces flew in individually to eventually form a mosaic centered with icons that represent core values.

So who is Every Child?

She’s the highly gifted fifth-grader who aspires to be the first woman president of the United States – and who codes computers in her spare time.

He’s the outgoing seventh-grader who’s apt at any time to break out into song and who – surprise surprise – loves to perform.

He’s the incredibly bright high school senior who has done research on eradicating the Ebola virus and who plans to become a biomedical engineer.

Or maybe they’re the recent graduates who are attending Yale and UT-Austin but continue to serve the district through a non-profit they started to help students get to college.

In Spring Branch ISD, there are more than 35,000 Every Childs – 35,000-plus individual students who will walk through school doors on Aug. 24 with just as many hopes, dreams and aspirations. And it’s the district’s job to ensure that every single child is learning, every single day, said Dr. Scott Muri, superintendent.

“We are about every single child, every single day,” Muri told district staff gathered at last week’s convocation. “We have to take advantage of every minute in every day,” he added, underscored by the Stratford High School choir singing a modified version of “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical “Rent” that noted “2 billion 600 million minutes” of learning in the coming school year.

On the job since July 1, Muri has already seen plenty of evidence of Spring Branch’s core values in action as he continues his “looking, listening and learning tour.”

On Limitless Curiosity: After relating a story about being peppered with questions from a class of first-graders, Muri encouraged teachers at all levels to stimulate intellectual curiosity. “Celebrate when every student raises their hands, or colors outside the lines, or doesn’t stand in straight lines, or when they ask strange questions … We should provide an academic environment to explore that Limitless Curiosity.”

Moral Compass: “We do what’s right for the children we serve,” he said, illustrating that with a story about a bus driver who raised money for a family in need by setting up a hot dog stand on busy Gessner on a recent Friday afternoon.

Collaborative Spirit: A percussionist himself, Muri at one point called in a single drummer, Anthony Wagner, a Spring Woods High School senior, to roll out a riff on a snare drum.

Chatting with Anthony, Muri said that playing by one’s self is OK, but jamming with others is a lot more fun. Following another drumroll from Anthony, a cacophony of percussion could be heard but not seen until a long drumline comprising each high school emerged from the ramp leading to athletic offices.

Muri recognized that the drumline sound was made up of bass, tenor and snare drums and cymbals, all working together to create the captivating beat.

“As a system, we are about Collaborative Spirit,” Muri said. “Hopefully you felt some of that spirit when (the drumline) came in … while Anthony did just great on his own, think about how great they sounded together,” adding that the combined drumline had only first come together the day before Convocation.

Collective Greatness: Muri witnessed firsthand the district and community response to the Gentry House apartment fire in late July that displaced some 300 persons, Spring Branch families and Spring Branch students.

He saw the stunned expressions on victims’ faces in the cafeteria at Edgewood Elementary, which opened as both a refuge for those victims and ultimately a Red Cross shelter. But he also saw how personnel from across the district turned out to help – principals, teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, bus drivers.

And he saw high school students out in front of Edgewood that night, helping unload all kinds of supplies from a long line of vehicles, from a long line of community members who saw a need and helped fill it.

“That is Collective Greatness,” said Muri. “I’ve never seen a community come together like that to meet the needs of others … and that’s us.

Members of the Cross-Functional Team (CFT) were thrilled that their work has encapsulated both what the district believes and how it operates.

“I’m proud,” said Lawanda Coffee, external fund compliance director. “It’s all coming together now … (the values) represent not only who we are but also where we want to go. Instead of being a good district, we can be great.”

Mike Stokebrand, an associate director of athletics and former assistant principal at Memorial High School, said that he was privileged to serve on the values CFT and recognizes both the committees work and the marketing effort that has generated tremendous awareness of the core values (“You don’t see that so much in education,” he said).

He thinks that Muri will take living the values to the “next level”.

“He’s going to ingrain (the values) in everyone’s mindset,” said Stokebrand. “As I’ve heard him, he’s so inspirational and motivational.”

Back at Convocation 2015, Muri is wrapping up his presentation following the Stratford choir’s performance.

“When my superintendent friends from across the country call and ask why I’m here,” Muri, said, pausing to slowly wave his arm from one side of the audience to the other and letting that sink in as his answer, that he’s here because of the teachers, principals, support staff and everyone who works and lives in Spring Branch.

And with one more command to the drumline, silently reconvened on the arena’s concourse, Muri sent district staff into the new school year with marching orders of their own: to ensure that every single child is learning every single day.

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“Know them,” he said, “and know what they’re learning.”


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