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Crisfield: How to Do More with Less

The superintendent examines how the district will do more with less during tough budget times.

A resident asked what I thought was an excellent question at our last Millburn Board of Education meeting: “How are you going to do more with less?”

What I like so much about it is the embedded presumption that we’re not going to do “less” or “the same” with less, but, rather, we’re going to do “more.” Fantastic! I’d like to answer that simple yet elegant question with this column.

Taking a step back for a moment from the ongoing question of how much less (i.e. the ongoing budget deliberations), I’d like to focus on just the part that looks forward and that takes the conversation into a more positive place for a change. That is, how are we going to get better at what we already do well? Here’s how.

Adopt a laser focus on teacher quality

We have some incredibly talented teachers in Millburn. One of the qualities we look for in a truly excellent teacher is his or her commitment to the proposition that we can all get better at what we already do well. And we intend to focus on just that.

Once the budget dust settles, look for the rollout of the Millburn Leadership Initiative, which is going to be a multi-year commitment to this proposition. And starting in the new budget year, targeted professional development opportunities will revolve around the core principle of the power of collaboration and of the synergy that gets created when teachers are given time to have professional conversations with each other about the art of teaching.

Be mindful of the wisdom and power of investment

When students acquire the requisite literacy and numeracy skills early in their academic careers, it is an invaluable investment in their future. So we will put into place a host of measures to ensure that investment takes place. We also intend to invest in the quality of every teacher in this district, in all grades and at all levels, so that every student reaps the benefit of good teaching. And last but certainly not least, we will re-dedicate ourselves to protecting the investment that this community has put into its physical plant and school facilities.

Commit to a 21st Century approach to technology

We intend to embrace the natural, inevitable changes that technology has brought to our society. We will train teachers on how to use the technology that we provide to them, and how to incorporate it into their lessons in a way that students not only understand, but are familiar with (and excited about) from their own personal use of technology.

And before we do any of that, we will develop a multi-year technology plan that makes sense, that is sustainable from a financial point of view and that we actually then commit to following.

Recognize our responsibility to run a green operation

We will get better at how we use (and possibly generate) energy, not because it’s fashionable or the latest fad, but because it’s the right thing to do and because we recognize our responsibility to be positive role models for our students. We have an energy education program in the works that will not involve any hardware or equipment but simply some adjustments in human behavior that will result in real, material energy use cutbacks (and therefore dollar savings!) over a 10 year period. I have seen this program work and it’s worth doing for financial and green reasons.

And we will pursue options in the ever-evolving field of solar energy. If the right combination of financial viability and operational feasibility presents itself in this realm, we will not hesitate to act.

Maintain character education as a cornerstone of our educational philosophy

Regardless of any other changes that may or may not take place in terms of budget, staffing or program, we will keep character education at the front of the line, shoulder to shoulder with academic excellence, when it comes to district priorities. The great thing about this is it doesn’t cost a lot of money to be good citizens, or to do nice things for others or to treat others in a respectful manner.

And at the end of the day, not only do we want to graduate top shelf scholars, but we also want to graduate good people.

I think we all look forward to the day when the budget process is over (at least I know I do!) and we can focus on things that have less to do with money and more to do with how we provide a world class educational experience for our students. That day is still some weeks away, but consider the above a sneak preview of the post-budget-deliberations period where we will manage to do more with less.

Noreen Brunini March 08, 2011 at 09:42 PM
We are not alone see the NY Times article on Bronxville's school budget issues== http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/09bronxville.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig although I do note that their teachers apparently agreed to a wage freeze.
Wendy March 09, 2011 at 12:38 AM
MarkDS, In what kind of condition a district can "give" a 0% increase? we are in recession now and enough is enough.
Pucci March 09, 2011 at 02:00 AM
Perhaps the title of the article should have been: "How we are going to maintain our top rated school district without spending any more."
Barbara Russo March 09, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Dr. Crisfield - you mention starting professional development opportunities to enable "...the power of collaboration and of the synergy that gets created when teachers are given time to have professional conversations with each other about the art of teaching." This does not need to be "created" in the Pre-School, it already exists. Teachers and other professionals are a very close knit group who see each other and interact professionally every day, and they all know every single child in the program. Yet your plan is to destroy that existing collaboration and split the program between two buildings. If it isn't broken or not functioning well, why take it apart and destroy it? Barbara
Dr. James Crisfield March 09, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Barbara--thanks for your thoughts about one of the district's most precious programs. I agree that our pre-school program benefits from a high degree of professionalism and collaboration on the part of the many staff members who are involved with that program (not just teachers). But I respectfully disagree with the premise that splitting the program will necessarily destroy that collaboration. We will be sure to put into place provisions and safeguards such that the program's quality is not impacted in any way by the change in venue, to include preserving the synergy that is created in that program by such a dedicated staff.

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