Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Administration

Through the wonder of Facebook, I recently had the good fortune of reading a poem that did what good poetry does – it moved me. It was written by Lew Kahler, Dean of Arts and Humanities, here at MVCC. It describes the supreme challenges associated with good teaching and succinctly captures the essence of the magic when learning happens. I connected with the poem from my own teaching experience, and my experience as an administrator focused on organizational learning. That phrase, “those who can’t do, teach” has always cut me the wrong way, especially with the corresponding addition, “and those who can’t teach administer.” We so often hear about the importance of good leadership and rarely talk about the manner in which leadership manifests itself in good administration or good management. While good teaching changes student lives at the micro level, good administration changes student lives at the macro level. It’s what keeps me going every day, helping the College learn, develop, and do a little better every day for our students and our community. The last nine lines of the poem culminating in, ”as a thought sets in and changes the course of a life" puts that poetic blanket around our organizational vision of transforming lives...one day, one conversation, one thought at at time. As National Poetry Month kicks off this week on April 1st, it’s my pleasure to share this poem with you. If you have any thoughts here, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Poem # 75 - “Good Teaching”

He espoused, the old cliché,
“Those who can’t do, teach.”
I wanted to reach
across the table
and choke him.
but violence
rarely proves a point,
so I sat and waited.
He was jaded,
had made good money
at a job he hated
with a wife he no longer loved
and a house that had become a burden
of affluence.
“You were a teacher,” he said,
sipping his drink
as I suppressed a feeling of dread.
“How would you define good teaching?”
“It’s reaching,” I said “beyond any thought you can grasp.
It’s hoping that through it all
a light will shine
inside a mind
that will release someone
from the bonds of their own limitations.
It is struggling each day
to stay above water
as the tides
of ignorance rise.
It is slashing at windmills
climbing the hills of bullshit
that are piled on the young
by an uneducated,
high-strung, self-important society.
It is quiet hours of despair.
It is the shatteringly self-aware doubt
that nothing you say matters.
It is that moment,
when what you say,
that idea phrased in a certain way-
that moment of delay,
as a thought sets in
and changes the course of a life."

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Future "Ain't" What it Used to Be

After nearly three years of living in upstate New York, I'm getting better at finding the value of a well placed Yogi Berra quote - hence the title here. This Yogism comes to mind of late, having completed a tour of Oneida County school districts, meeting with Superintendents and asking for a tour of one of their schools - whether it be an elementary, middle or high school. I saw smartboards (the 21st Century chalkboard) in classrooms at every level; in some districts, I witnessed insightful curriculum linkages between grade levels ; and was encouraged by so many districts, both large and small, that have struck effective balances between emphasizing science and technology while simultaneously celebrating the arts. Coupled with Curriculum Night at our daughter's elementary school, I've been exposed to what's going on in the primary and secondary grade classrooms.

One of the most interesting updates is Bloom's new taxonomy. More than 50 years ago, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues developed a framework that captured the various levels of learning. A few years ago, the taxonomy was updated to reflect relevance to 21st century work. The result is a powerful reflection of the shifting sands moving through education and the challenges we face that lends relevance to the YouTube video ("Shift Happens"). The video posits that things are changing so fast we are "preparing students for jobs that don't currently exist; using technologies that haven't yet been invented; in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet." I found it most interesting that the updated taxonomy changes the nouns of the old framework to action verbs in the new one - symbolically addressing the need for learning to be an "engaging activity" and not a thing in the context of these changing times.

I have been extremely encouraged by conversations I've had with students at my monthly luncheons regarding their experiences with engaging teachers at MVCC. I know it's happening here, but I can't help believing that we must continue to bring active learning to scale in every discipline and in every class through every delivery format (online or on campus). The early success of our Fall and Spring Institutes combined with the impressive willingness of faculty to share their best practices with one another (e.g., CATS with Katz) and new opportunities for Academic Affairs and Student Services to work together like the Pathway to Academic Recovery mid-year intervention program have us pointed in the right direction to achieve great success in this important endeavor.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lobbying and a Little More

Sometimes you wonder if lobbying matters or not. I recently had an experience that made me see how a trip to Albany can matter in unexpected ways. Last week, the New York Community College Trustees Association coordinated a day of advocacy for community colleges. Each community college in SUNY brought trustees, staff and students to Albany for meetings with our respective elected officials. As the saying goes, it was a day to remember.

I joined two other administrators in taking two students to Albany for a day of scheduled meetings. The students had never been to Albany. One was a returning adult student who already had a college degree, but came to MVCC to get a business degree to help her husband with their growing family business. The other student was a second year student who overcame a number of barriers as a youth to attend MVCC right after school.

Arriving a little early, we walked over to the Capitol to look around some before our first meeting. Just as the students were commenting at their new surroundings, we started up the escalator and said “good morning, Governor” as Governor Patterson and his staff were headed down the escalator. As we stepped off and came to the information desk, I asked the staff member where we might go for a self-guided tour. She quickly responded, “It’s early, I have time to show you around.” She grabbed her keys and took us into the Senate Chambers and gave us a wonderful tour, describing the beautiful architecture and some of the history in our view. Soon after, we went through the Assembly Chambers, walked the million dollar staircase, and toured the beautiful law library. It was a fantastic way to start our day.

During our scheduled series of meetings with Assemblymen Magee and Townsend, Assemblywoman Destito and Senator Griffo, we met staff and students from other community colleges and got familiar with many of our fellow New Yorkers in the crammed elevators – to the point that we were using the stairs by the end of the day. We were able to hear the latest challenges our elected officials are facing – cutting $9-10 billion out of a $56 billion budget. The revenue streams keep falling short of expectations and the solutions for simply “cutting” are becoming increasingly scarce. We were there the day the proposed “bailout” solution was proposed, which would prohibit any basic transformational pain that is likely to be the only long-term solution for New York State government. We were able to talk about the exciting initiatives at the College, the challenges we face and demonstrate the difference MVCC makes in its students' lives through the personal stories of the students with us who shared their experiences and perspectives with the officials (they did a fantastic job.)

It is hard to quantify how much our visits mattered in the overall scheme of the 2010 political session in Albany. However, it was pretty easy to see how much our visits mattered to the students, and in turn, to the rest of our team. To see their reactions and listen to their reflections throughout the day was a real treat. It was evident that the day created multiple lasting memories for the students and for us. The 90 minute ride from Utica to Albany also mattered in that the five of us got to know each other better and truly feel part of a team, so proud to represent MVCC. An added bonus for me was within 24 hours after our trip to Albany, I happened to cross paths with both students. We smiled and said hello – knowing that our time together was much more than just lobbying. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Previewing the Future

Over the past year, I have had the tremendous good fortune to visit with the superintendent of nearly every school district in Oneida County (I'll complete my tour later this month).  I did this in preparation for our 3rd annual superintendent’s breakfast that will take place March 18th.  The possibility was too tempting – to get to walk the halls of every high school, sometimes the middle schools and junior highs, and sometimes even the elementary schools in every district.  The experience has allowed me to see first-hand what MVCC students of tomorrow are experiencing today…and think about what their expectations will be when they arrive at our doors.

An early indicator came in my first visit when the Superintendent told me that they had installed smartboard technology in every elementary and junior high classroom and were scheduled to finish the high school in the fall.  I later walked through many schools where smartboards were in every classroom in the district.  Fortunately, we are well on our way with smartboards and related faculty training in the active use of the technology – clearly, many of our future students will be expecting it. Although the classroom furniture was often the porcelain tablet armchairs, they were often in mixed arrangements and, as a percentage, more classrooms had tables and chairs than we currently have.  Our recent efforts to update classroom furniture need to continue and help create a more tangible difference between a high school and college classroom experience.

I received countless positive comments about the opportunity our dual credit offerings in the high schools provide their (our) students.  The changes we’ve made over the past year as a result of receiving national accreditation of our dual credit offerings have all been well received.  The curriculum, textbooks, and assessment processes are far more consistent than ever and the instructors feel more connected to MVCC as our adjunct faculty.  These responses were very affirming for me and signaled a shift from dual credit feeling like an expansive enrollment paper shuffle to the significant and relevant academic partnership effort that it needs to be.

Consistent challenges that became increasingly evident include the need to take action on aligning our curriculum better.  The number of students testing below college level is alarming - however, I received very insightful feedback that should prompt us to take a very close look at our basic skills testing processes and benchmark current practices of both two-year and four-year schools.  In addition, many schools are looking to us in the area of career education.  Not just to simply expand our partnerships with local BOCES, but to find creative ways to partner and have the College serve a larger role in creating opportunities for younger students - perhaps career awareness activities in elementary, career exposure activities in middle and junior level schools, and partnering with the School and Business Alliance and others to create career experiences at the high school level.

Much work needs to be done, but much of it is already underway.  We have many ‘boutique’ programs and various pilot models in place with school districts throughout the area.  With the unprecedented fiscal constraints facing us all, now is the time to bring these smaller programs to scale.  A perfect summary statement made at the end of one school visit captures the general tenor of most districts, “if you and your colleagues at MVCC have any ideas for innovation, creativity, or bold thinking with regard to programming, call us. We’re in.  We want to make it happen for our kids.”  We need to make it happen.  If you have any thoughts on this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Multi-Campus College

All the other community colleges where I’ve worked have multiple campuses. The fact that MVCC has always had multiple campuses appealed to me from the very beginning. However, my understanding of MVCC history is that the multi-campus past of the College has not always been straight-forward or easy, but the present may provide a clearer path for the future.

Soon after the College was founded in 1946, two campuses were in operation – one at the former country day school in New Hartford (for the business and retail programs) and the State Street center (for the engineering and technical programs). By 1953, the business activity in Rome and the emergence of the Air Force Base helped prompt the opening of the Rome Campus. 1960 brought the establishment of the current campus in Utica that combined the two existing sites. Despite being in operation for more than 50 years, the last few years has seen a number of questions surrounding the Rome Campus. A SUNY study group spent a year examining the options associated with the future of the Rome Campus. Their recommendations led to the creation of the Rome Campus Commission – a group of dedicated community volunteers and key MVCC staff members.

Over the last two years, the recommendations of the Rome Campus Commission have helped to accelerate incredible results that were already underway. Overall, the number of course sections offered has increased 13% and credit hour enrollment has increased 43% between 2004 and 2009 and that trend continues this year. Our creative partnerships at the Rome Campus are thriving with Sage Trucking and the tractor-trailer training school, SUNY-Canton and the Dental Hygiene program and Rome Memorial Hospital supporting our strong nursing program offerings there. In addition, student activities are on the rise in Rome with a significant increase in the number of events and attendees, as well as expanded Cultural Series offerings.

About 14% of all student credit hours this semester come from the Rome Campus and 74% from the Utica Campus (the remainder come from Online offerings and dual credit partnerships with local high schools). While less than 1/5 of all enrollment, the central geographic presence in Oneida County and the close proximity to the Griffiss Business & Technology Park cannot be understated in terms of the importance of the Rome Campus. Our current master planning process is assisting our collective thinking with regard to forwarding the notion of MVCC as one college with two campuses (or more when we think of a virtual, online campus, but that’s for another post). Whatever the past may be, our current perceptions are greatly influenced – sometimes good and others not so good. Looking to the future, students must be the center of our thinking – the community and our students need more than a narrow mindset of Utica vs. Rome or vice versa. Dated arguments rooted in parochial notions fail to demonstrate a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service from every angle. Regardless of where students attend classes at MVCC, Rome, Utica, or Online, they’re all MVCC students and should receive the same high level student experience.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.