Tell Me Your ZIP Code and I Will Tell You Your Score

This is less a blog post, but rather an open letter looking for help. I am not blaming anyone. I just need an example (s). Please, someone, show me the way. There has to be someone who defied the odds of their ZIP code.

I am the Principal of a recently designated “Focus” School by the State of New Jersey. According to the State’s Department of Education, a Focus School is, “a school that has room for improvement in areas that are specific to the school. As part of the process, focus schools will receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs. There are 183 focus schools.

The designation for my particular school is, “Lowest Subgroup Performance: Schools whose two lowest performing sub groups rank among the lowest combined proficiency levels in the state. Schools in this category have an overall proficiency rate for these lowest performing sub groups of 29.2% or lower.”

Ironically, when I found out that we were designated as a Focus School, we were not given specifics. So, I really don’t know (other than lowest performing sub group) why we are designated. In the past, this type of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) was determined by the students who were enrolled in the school prior to the start of the school year. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the new designations were based on whoever took the test in the school, no matter how long they have attended. (For instance, my sister school RD Wood, a Priority School,  has had over 200 transfer in/outs this year alone.)

As I looked at the breakdown of the state data, something began to really stick out. It seemed to be correlated with ZIP codes and performance. According to the NJDOE website, District Factor Group (DFG) designations were, “First developed in 1975 for the purpose of comparing students’ performance on statewide assessments across demographically similar school districts. The categories are updated every ten years when the Census Bureau releases the latest Decennial Census data.” The NJDOE explains that there are six variables that further assist in determining a DFG:  “1) Percent of adults with no high school diploma 2) Percent of adults with some college education 3) Occupational status 4) Unemployment rate 5) Percent of individuals in poverty 6) Median family income.”

So, “A” is the lowest designation and B, C, D, E etc. are progressively more affluent districts. You get the point. As I looked over the report, I found some really interesting details.

Of the 75 Priority Schools, 81% were categorized as DFG A, and 100% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 183 Focus Schools, 54% were categorized as DFG A, and 70% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 112 Reward Schools, 4% (5 schools) were DFG A, and 32% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

(Please note that the vast majority of schools in NJ will not be found in any of these categories, and at the time of this blog, do not have a designation.)

Still, I’m not blaming anyone, but why so few DFG-A’s that were designated as Reward Schools? Why are so many Priority and Focus Schools?

I am looking for examples of schools who, despite their socio-economic status, achieve high test scores on a regular basis. I have some criteria, though, because I do not want to play the shell game. These schools must fit this criteria:

–          Is not a magnet school

–          Has not recently been “redistricted”

–          Is not a school for the “gifted”

–          Maintains the same type of demographics (sub groups included) from the onset of being identified as low performing (failing to make AYP for multiple years) to achieving a status reflecting success (Reward or not on the Focus or Priority list).

See, I am cautious when presented with examples of schools who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve high levels of success on high stakes testing in their state because there are usually a few asterisks. Under NCLB, schools who were not meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) were designated as such. Some districts, with the best intentions, decided to spread the wealth (or in this case, non-wealth) and re-district. I cannot blame them. Some districts changed the nature of the school and once again, I cannot blame them.  They probably discovered Chicago’s Nettlehorst School, a “national example of a turnaround,” and decided to follow suit. Did you know that the poverty rate at Nettlehorst School went from 83% in 1999 to 34% in 2010? (Read more about this here)


What about the teachers? There is a drum beat pertaining to teacher effectiveness sounding in our media, dinner table conversations, and administrative meetings. I am sure that effectiveness can be improved, but I wonder about the vast throngs of teachers who do teach in DFG- A schools. Is it statistically possible that in the number of priority and focus schools in New Jersey that they have the least effective teachers? I can speak for my teachers and tell you that they integrate technology, best practices, and research-based methods, attended the same Universities as their counterparts in wealthier districts, and do all this day after day and year after year because, well, they think they can make a difference. Not to mention, they were “guided” by the State of New Jersey through the now defunct Collaborative Assessment and Planning for Achievement (CAPA).


So I ask you, I beg you, and I plead for your assistance. Can somebody please send me examples of schools that have defied the odds and have achieved sustained success on their state’s high stakes assessment? *Please remember, no shell games.


Overview of Current Designation:

List of Priority, Focus and Reward Schools in NJ:

Nettlehorst Article:

Changing demographics at Nettlehorst:

The Cat’s in the Cradle

And the cat’s in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon

Father’s Day had always been a difficult day for me until I had my own children. I grew up without a father. He passed away in an unfortunate accident while my mother was pregnant with me. Gone, just like that. Throughout my life I have had a strong desire to be a father. I am sure it is because I never had one. It was my life mission to be a father. The World’s Best Father!

The past 8 years I at least looked forward to Father’s Day. I hadn’t always cherished the day, though. I didn’t understand how important it was to me. I used to want to go play golf or have time to myself, because that’s what dad’s do. It’s ironic, on Mother’s Day moms across the globe look forward to spending time with their children. Dads are different.  All that changed when I heard a song that I had heard hundreds of times.

Ever listen to the song “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin? (Ironically it was released in the year I was born) About 3 years ago I was listening to the song in the car, and I started to cry. I couldn’t stop. It really got me. I thought about all of the times I was the Father, and I how I was too busy to spend time with my children. Was I becoming the dad in the song? Would I regret the decisions I made someday? I put so much emphasis on being a great father that I forgot about the most important aspect: spending time with my children.

Talk to any grandfather, and they will tell you that their children went through a similar progression that Chapin noted. They will tell you that it is hard to compete with friends, technology, or sports/activities. Then their kids go to college, they go to work, and find someone to start their family with. All of those fathers will tell you the same thing: it goes so fast!

So, for me Father’s Day will be spent with the most cherished people in my world… my wife and children. How will you spend your Father’s Day?

Take a few moments and listen to this song. Think about your dad. Think about your children, or even think about your life. Are you present? Are you engaged? Let me know, and we’ll get together then, I know we’ll have a good time then….

More information on the song:’s_in_the_Cradle


Cymbolic Symbolism

Just minutes before the Spring 2012 Concert

As an Elementary principal I have had the opportunity to play floor hockey, football, kickball, challenge students in math, substitute teach, write essays, and even tried Double Dutch  with the students, and teachers. Up until the other night, one thing I had never done was perform with a School Band.

Growing up I had an appreciation for music, but never had any interest, or patience in playing instruments on my own. A lot of my friends played the guitar, drums, and even the Tuba, but not me. So in order to grow as a professional, I came out of my comfort zone and played the cymbals in our Spring Concert!

I have to admit that during the practices, I felt just like a kid, and I was treated like one! My fellow band members had little patience for me at first. They would say, “Dr. Cook, you are supposed to play on 23 and 29. See its right here!” I had to inform them that I didn’t read music. They laughed at me! Before long I wore them down, and they all chipped in to make sure I met my marks.

As for the actual playing of the cymbals, I needed a lot of practice. All I was required to do was a cymbal roll. I was told to start in the middle and “roll” towards the outside of the cymbal. It was not easy. I played too quiet, I played too loud, and I messed up a lot. One of the kids in the percussion section told me, upon seeing my frustration, that I needed to play with more confidence.

I got a lot better through one word…practice! I attended as many practices as I could leading up to the performance. I thought about my part, I talked about it to other musicians. I felt like I was a part of something.

My main goal for participating in the concert was to show kids that they could achieve something if they set their minds to it, and used their resources. I tried to show them how difficult it was for me, and that I too have challenges in my life.

Mr. Mazza leading the chorus

I also learned a little more about the correlation between playing in a band and leadership. Although the conductor is in charge, everyone has their parts, and with that everyone needs to be on the same page. Each instrument has its purpose, and there are times for solos, playing along with everybody and letting others take the lead. Every0ne has to work together for the music to sound beautiful. You have to trust that everyone else has practiced, and that they are following the script. Mistakes are bound to happen, and sometimes those mistakes are only heard within the band.

Thankfully, it all came together on the night of the concert. I welcomed the parents to the Spring Concert and admitted that I was nervous (but I didn’t tell them why). Once the concert started, I got into the zone. I remained focused on my objective…cymbal roll. I felt such a rush after we finished our first song. Although I probably missed a few of the notes, I was on cloud 9!

RM Bacon kids working to the crescendo

Thanks to everyone who supported me in my first concert, self-titled, “Cymbolic Symbolism.”

A year of firsts!

With only a few days left in the 2011-2012, I would like to reflect on this school year. This was the year of firsts.

Here is a list of my firsts:

– First full year as a principal

– First year on Social Media: facebook, twitter, pintrest, google+, edmodo

– First ASCD conference!

– First school blog!

– First personal blog!

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

It is been such a rewarding year being principal here at RM Bacon Elementary. I could not have accomplished this without the symphony of musicians playing the beautiful music that is our learning.

Here are some things we have accomplished as a team:

– Successfully implemented the “Your Image is Our Image” theme

– Started an Edmodo group with a school in Wisconsin

– Redesigned our Basic Skills Instruction to mirror the RTI process

– Raised thousands of dollars for charities

– Implemented a new math series

– Increased teacher and student use of technology

– Hosted ASCD film crew for Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd edition

– Began an “un” professional development model on Fridays focusing on technology integration and application

– Updated our PBIS model

– Received approval for 21st Century Learning Program for next year

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

In addition to all of this, I had an amazing year working with parents, teachers and students on the ambitious goal of being the highest performing Elementary School in Millville within 3 years and  in the County within 5 years. We have established a process-centered approach to being world class.

I am already looking forward to next year…when “Impossible is Nothing!”


I was just like you…

Dear Administrators,

I feel like I need to share some really good news with you. And I am not alone. See, I was just like you!


During these past few months I have opened myself up completely to the 21st century. I went full board, having never created a blog, wiki, uploaded a video, nor participated in ANY social media prior to this year. I have never been a techie, or desired to acquire the newest gadgets (Honestly, I held out for a long time from buying compact discs).

I will admit it… I was scared. I had nothing good to say about facebook, twitter, google, blogging, and I too felt that I had learned all I needed to know about the computer (Hey, I was a wiz at the Microsoft office suite). As long as I could get on the internet, I was fine. I knew how to search for things. I could find articles, and resources, or so I thought. As an educator, my mind was made up: we are not allowed to participate in this new found social media stuff anyway. It was all “trouble” and the “devil’s playground.”

I was good. All good. I knew a lot more then my predecessors. I have worked with administrators in the past who didn’t know how to turn on a computer. They couldn’t text, or had no idea what a url was. They were just fine, and some almost reveled in their learned helplessness. Let’s face it, I thought, there were hundreds of thousands of effective principals since the beginning of time who never even wrote an email.


Then a strange thing happened on my way to being comfortable. I found out that as a 38 year old first-year principal, who was a self-described progressive in education, that I was already a dinosaur (insert dinosaur sound). I have called educators dinosaurs before. Gulp. We all know how that story ended: Extinction! Well, I didn’t want to be extinct.  And I don’t want you to be either! I had ask myself some tough questions: Am I modeling 21st century skills for my teachers and students? Am I really progressive? Do I really know where education was going? The answers were clearly, NO. So I DID something about it. I TOOK a LEAP. I got off of the comfortable road!

So, this is your homework assignment for the summer.  You need to start something. Depending on where you want to grow, there are plenty of resources. And I am willing to help, and so are all the connected educators near you, and thousands more are just a click away. Actually, we are all just a click away from you!

We are not trying to keep anything from you. We want EVERYBODY to be connected. This is not a competition. Rather, it is a privilege that you are in the position you are in. With the gift of being an administrator, there is a responsibility to your teachers, parents, students, and most of all, to yourself. Now, what are you going to do with this precious gift?

Ask yourself these questions….Here are some resources for you.

I want to know how to access the cutting edge information on education. Where do I start? – It is free, and you will have access to Professional Development at your fingertips 24/7. I recommend to start with the following educators:

@NMHS_Principal, Eric Sheninger, High School Principal

@stumpteacher, Josh Stumpenhorst, Teacher

@PrincipalJ, Jessica Johnson, Elementary Principal

@web20classroom, Steven Anderson, Technology Supervisor

@gcouros, George Couros, Principal and founder of Connected Principals

I want to know how tell my classroom, district or school’s story? Start a school blog or a personal blog using (Blogger, edublogs, or Word Press).

Justin Tarte, Life of an Educator

Dave Gentile, The Road To Excellence is Always Under Construction

Pamm Moore, Learning to Lead

Spike Cook’s RM Bacon School Site, RM Bacon Weekly

Curt Rees, I know this much is true

How will I be able to do all this? You have to make time. Just like the teachers you are frustrated with, you can’t punch in and out. You have to be willing to put in the time, and be committed.  The more you are connected, the more you will become inspired by what folks are doing.

How can I learn all of this? Like the famous book by Anne Lamott Bird by Bird you have to start small and take it one bird at a time.

I guarantee that you have a teacher in your building or an administrator in another building that can help you out with your transition to being connected. You just have to open yourself up to the possibilities.

For those of you who are reading this because you are connected, my challenge to you is to print, email, forward, or even read this to another administrator that you feel could benefit.

Remember, I was just like you!


My Prezi on Social Media in Administration:

Great Article on the Power of the Principal:

Twitter accounts for Technology:




Memorial Day: Taking a day for remembering

My Father Joel Howell

Every year my wife and I try to attend a Memorial Day service and talk with our children about the importance of the day. We have attended parades, services, and even visited local parks.



My Brother Billy Howell

Although we never served, my wife and I have a lot of family members who did. My father (deceased)served in the Army during  WW2, my brother was a career Navy Seal, and his son currently serves in the Navy.




Theresa's Grandfather Anthony Caratozzolo

My wife’s family also had many who served. Her father was in the National Guard, her grandfathers (both deceased)were in the Navy during WW2, one Uncle was a Green Beret in Vietnam, and another Uncle is a Commander in the Coast Guard. This is just the immediate family.



Henry in his camo room

We teach our children to “thank a vet for his/her service” whenever we see them around town, in a store, or at a restaurant. My son, through the power of Call of Duty, has his whole room camouflaged, and he has already told us that he would like to be a soldier. Who said video games had no positive impact on children?


Theresa's Father Anthony Caratozzolo

So, thank you for a taking a few minutes to read this post. For me it was the least that I could do to remember those who have served both in my family and my wife’s family. In some small way, we are all making a difference for the future as we remember the past.



Theresa's Grandfather John Fredella





Conversation with a Futurist Part 5

During the ASCD12 conference in Philadelphia I attended a session with Futurist, Watts Wacker. He began the discussion by saying that he did not come to answer questions, but rather to ask them. He immediately had my attention. Then he began to speak, and I tried my hardest to keep up. Here is the stream of conscious notes I took. In order to develop deeper understanding I took the notes, and separated them into 5 parts. I also worked with a mind-mapping genius to bring the text, and concepts to another level. I hope it hurts your brain like it did mine.

Part 5 of 5

Who would be crazy enough to tell British Petroleum, after one of the most major oil spills in the history of the world that they should partner with Greenpeace? Watts did and now it is Beyond Petroleum.

So you need to think BIG. Explore your curiosity. Why not challenge convention?  How about play? We are players who enjoy having fun. Seriously, when was the last time you had fun?

Think about innovations vs. conception. There are some people who can innovate and there are others who can create. Creatives are not always great conceptualizes and yet, conceptualization can be taught.

Reflect on the concepts of asymmetry, and maximizing your weakness. What is your golden ratio?  How do you live in virtual space?

Why did we stop teaching philosophy in schools? Philosophy helps us understand:







If you have a problem to solve, try to use physics. Ask yourself what is leadership? Then ask yourself these questions:

Do you know who you are?

Are you being true to yourself?

Are you setting goals?

Are you developing lasting relationships?

Do you ask for help?

Are you standing up for your beliefs?

Do you help others?

Do you take responsibility for your actions?

Are you looking your best?

Does your head hurt yet?

Missed parts?

Part 1

Part 2  

Part 3

Part 4


ASCD 12 Virtual Resources:

Watts Wacker’s web site:


Joseph Kony:

Kony 2012:

Conversation with a Futurist Part 4

During the ASCD12 conference in Philadelphia I attended a session with Futurist, Watts Wacker. He began the discussion by saying that he did not come to answer questions, but rather to ask them. He immediately had my attention. Then he began to speak, and I tried my hardest to keep up. Here is the stream of conscious notes I took. In order to develop deeper understanding I took the notes, and separated them into 5 parts. I also worked with a mind-mapping genius to bring the text, and concepts to another level. I hope it hurts your brain like it did mine.

Part 4 of 5

Pintrest Logo

Fortunately, Art is back and it begets design. Take for instance Pintrest. Have an idea about a design? Try Pintrest? How about a bulletin board? A garden? Want to create your own art? Try Pintrest. Then, you can print your creation in 3D. Heard of that? 3D printers are a reality. (see video below)

Is life is too short or is life is too long? We are working diligently on improving everything from our medicine, diet, exercise, and general quality of life. We have the beginning of diet based on blood type. We have exercise routines established for any type of workout you would want to do, or not do?


Remember Maslow? Watts asked this question to the audience, “What is more important to us? The anticipation of the event, and remembrance of the event?”  I can remember being a kid and anticipating an upcoming event. I would think and think about the event. Anticipation. Or I can think back to those special events as a child. Memories.

RM Bacon QR Code

Literacy provides us with the ability to read and write. Now you can read and write your own code, your own apps. Why wait for someone else to do it? We are learning to love to learn. Think about inspiration, what inspires you? You can literally explore whatever inspires you.


Watts uses the Cowboy way. When you are out on the ranch there is no time for euphemism. You need to be direct and succinct and you don’t need no fancy words. He spent time as a cowboy on a ranch helping people. Even though he is a world renown Futurist, people only saw him a Cowboy on a ranch. People will treat you like the role you are. Try to be something, and people will treat you as such. Start today by telling people you are a _______. They will treat you as a ________.

Here is a story on 3-D Printers:

Missed parts?

Part 1

Part 2  

Part 3


ASCD 12 Virtual Resources:

Watts Wacker’s web site:


Joseph Kony:

Kony 2012:

Conversation with a Futurist? Part 3

During the ASCD12 conference in Philadelphia I attended a session with Futurist, Watts Wacker. He began the discussion by saying that he did not come to answer questions, but rather to ask them. He immediately had my attention. Then he began to speak, and I tried my hardest to keep up. Here is the stream of conscious notes I took. In order to develop deeper understanding I took the notes, and separated them into 5 parts. I also worked with a mind-mapping genius to bring the text, and concepts to another level. I hope it hurts your brain like it did mine.

Part 3 of 5

Einstein theories are now laws. We all grew up hearing about the theories of Einstein because at that time that is what they were… theories. Each of those theories, through the scientific process, has been proven.

There is a dichotomy with the Establishment vs. the Movement. For instance, the current President ran on the platform of hope and change as the movement. Once elected, he became the establishment. Listen carefully in the fall as the new election cycle unfolds. The other side will be talking about… change. The lesson is each side needs to respect the other side. Why? Because sooner or later, the position (establishment or movement) will change.

Game play has changed. Think about what games were like when you were growing up? What is the object of monopoly? Chess? Checkers? Scrabble? To beat your opponent. Have you watched any of the new games in town? Ever watch someone play Call of Duty? The object is to beat the game not each other. Now major gaming is collaborative. Not just collaborative in the sense of the kids in the neighborhood playing together at someone’s house. It is a worldwide collaboration through technology that pairs up anyone who has a system. X-Box will even provide statistics showing who is playing around the world.

So the kids are playing differently, so shouldn’t we provide them with something different in the classroom? There really should be no more lectures in the classroom, it will be (should be) all collaborative. Learners, with an understanding of their role, can work together to solve a problem. Sound familiar?


Missed parts?

Part 1

Part 2  


ASCD 12 Virtual Resources:

Watts Wacker’s web site:


Joseph Kony:

Kony 2012:

Conversation with a Futurist? Part 2

During the ASCD12 conference in Philadelphia I attended a session with Futurist, Watts Wacker. He began the discussion by saying that he did not come to answer questions, but rather to ask them. He immediately had my attention. Then he began to speak, and I tried my hardest to keep up. Here is the stream of conscious notes I took. In order to develop deeper understanding I took the notes, and separated them into 5 parts. I also worked with a mind-mapping genius to bring the text, and concepts to another level. I hope it hurts your brain like it did mine.

Part 2 of 5

There is a Renewal of Thought. With that said, is it a renewal or a merely a shift?

Although some feel that our votes do not matter, we really can vote against anyone. For instance, Joseph Kony’s reputation was taken down with the help of Social Media. How did it happen? Kony 2012 was a film created by Invisible Children that advocated the capture and persecution of the Ugandan Leader Joseph Kony for the alleged atrocities he has committed against children. The campaign began on March 5, 2012 and the goal was to have him arrested by December of 2012. As the video went viral, the world spoke – over 86 million times.

Google is in everything, and they are ahead of everything. Want an answer to a question? Google it. Want directions, web sites, mail, social media, computers, software, and information? You got it, google. In this age of uncertainty, business is competitive, predatory, symbiotic, and parasitic. Yet the goodness business model exists. All we need is do right to do well.  Did you know Panera bread is experimenting with a pay what you can model? The underlying philosophy is that business is an obligation. For example, Toyota has an obligation to providing the most cost effective automobiles, but that is not their mission. Toyota’s mission is to be your car company for life. Simple as that. In addition, me is now a business model.

It is clear from the age of information that there lies an opportunity to learn anything you want. You can learn more than your doctor about something. That was almost impossible just 25 years ago. We revered doctors. Now they are a means for us to get our own medical treatment. We all have the ability to develop our own algorithm about whatever we want. Authority is no longer a thing. Been in a classroom lately? The students, with their access to hand held devices (calling them a phone is so last age) that can instantly reveal that the teacher doesn’t know everything.  Uh oh, teachers, embrace that or the students will send you packing! Be your own self authority.



Missed Part 1?




ASCD 12 Virtual Resources:

Watts Wacker’s web site:


Joseph Kony:

Kony 2012: