PJ Caposey


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Open Letter to Scott Van Pelt by Craig Burt

Posted by PJ Caposey on October 1, 2015 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Dear Scott Van Pelt,


I wish you all the best with your new “Late Night SportsCenter.” I was a little bummed when you announced that your run with Russillo on the radio was ending because it became a highlight of my day during a rather rough point in my life. One of my favorite aspects of the show was when you spoke about your daughter. I have a son who turned three in July making him roughly a year older than your little girl. When you spoke about milestones and adventures in parenting it was still very close to my own experience and consistently brought a smile to my face as I would drive from the school where I taught to pick up my son from his daycare. During those drives your show also helped me block out the incredible amount of pain I was as in I drove. The pain was from my Crohn's disease; in the spring of 2013 I weighed at 128 which is pretty light for a six foot tall man. My son distracted me from the pain once I got him, but you got me from work to him.

To steal a line from the comedian Ron White, “I told you that story so that I could tell you this one.” I am an educator. I have been a substitute, a classroom teacher, a TA (University of Alabama) an Assistant Principal. I have moved around a bit because my wife is a psychologist and how they match with internships is a whole big thing, however her top choices were with the United States Air Force and she matched for an internship at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. That year I joined the faculty of John Jay High School and taught US History. I left after that one year because my wife owed the Air Force three more years of service and they needed her in Georgia. However, when she completed her time in the Air Force we could have moved anywhere (that one last move is a parting gift from the military.) We chose to move back to San Antonio and built a home in the Northside School District because we wanted our son to go to Northside schools. I was blessed enough to rejoin the faculty of John Jay High School. I plan to send my son to John Jay (our house will not be zoned Jay, but I hope he will be able to get in through the magnet program.)

I cannot and will not speak about events that have gained recent attention about which I know very little. What I do know is that I have never been more proud to be a part of a school than I am to be a part of John Jay. We are a Title 1 School and our feeder schools have a poverty rate of around 90%. We have a mobility rate somewhere around 30%. We are not perfect. However, we work each day to make sure that our students not only graduate, but are prepared for life on the other side of the graduation stage. We are providing students with a wide variety of AP (college level) courses and consistently sending students to top schools such as Stanford, MIT, and the Air Force Academy in addition to the top state schools here in Texas. I realize ESPN probably isn’t going to set up shop down in Texas, but if you end up down here, I would strongly encourage you send your little girl to John Jay High School. It is where I plan to send my little boy.

Thank you for everything,

Craig Burt


Let's Stop

Posted by PJ Caposey on July 14, 2015 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Let’s Stop

Over the course of the past three weeks I have had conversations with my Leadership Team and faculty that I had no idea would end up discussing things we should and should not say. After engaging in these talks, these words or phrases started to appear everywhere I was. Now, I realize that these phrases did not just appear, but I simply was listening for them. I was amazed – these phrases are everywhere and need not be. So, here is my Top 5 lists of words and phrases we should cease using immediately.

5) No problem

Think about it – do you ever answer ‘No problem’ to something that you really want to do? Of course not, seemingly nobody does. No problem is the default answer to someone who asks you to do something you do not want to do, but is only going to be a mild annoyance.

o Could you re-send me that email (for the third time)? No problem.

o Can you take the garbage out? No problem.

o Do you want to go to Vegas at no cost for the weekend? No prob . . . Of course not – you would say absolutely – yes – something else, anything else – but not no problem.

4) I am busy or working hard

I have no doubt that your day was hard. My day seemed difficult as well. I do think, however, that by telling people how busy you are or how hard you are working simply bears one simple follow-up question – according to whom? I know a lot people work a lot harder in more difficult environments than I do. This helps me realize that I should not talk about how hard my day was - although I sometimes do. I also know that it is hard to believe how overwhelmed someone and how hard they are working after they live tweeted about binge watching an entire season of Orange is the New Black. When it comes to hard work – it is better to just do it rather than talk about it.

3) Irregardless

It is not a word people. Regardless is a word. Irregardless – not a word. Trust me – when I write this in Word, the red line comes up underneath. Irregardless – NOT A WORD!!

2) Just

In the vast majority of cases, just is a filler that can seem passive aggressive and or speak from a weakened position.

o I just wanted to check on . . .

o I just meant to see how . . .

o Just because it is the weekend does not mean . . .

o It will be just five minutes

In every single one of these statements – the sentence or statement reads better and stronger without the just: I wanted to check, it will be five minutes, etc.

Do not use just – it just makes you sound weak in your position and/or passive aggressive.

1) By all means – by no means

This is the one phrase that I hear the most out of the above and is the most ridiculous.

o Can Susie come over to play with Janie? By all means.

o By no means did I mean to offend you

o By all means have the last slice of pizza

What in the world are we saying? By any means necessary to you consume that last piece of pizza. It is not the right use of the language – say what you actually mean not a popularized phrase at this exact moment.

By all means, do with this blog what you want, but I did work really hard on it and I just want people to like it irregardless of whether it was good or not. :D


7 Tips for PTC Success

Posted by PJ Caposey on November 7, 2014 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

How many of you have sat through a Parent-Teacher Conference (PTC) that has been an utter disaster? I know I have been on both sides of the desk when a PTC has gone awry and those events actually serve to fracture or diminish relationships between the parent and teacher. Think about it – PTCs are just about the most public representation of our school system that exists and the most systematic effort to engage families in the educational experience.

Therefore, PTCs are hugely important. Despite their importance, most leaders do not set expectations or provide training for the teachers on how to conduct a successful PTC. From the perspective of a former teacher, current administrator, and demanding dad I have constructed a template that if followed should make PTCs productive, relationship-enhancing events. The secret to all grate PTCs is that they are entirely dependent upon the teacher’s actions well-before the meeting ever takes place. Here is how you do it:

I. Review of previous communication or lack thereof

• If the first time you are talking or communicating with a parent on an individual basis – then expect the conference to be less productive and have a heightened level of tension. Great teachers use this conference as an opportunity to talk about changes they have made or the student has made since the last parent contact. Additionally, if parent contact has been attempted and replies are scarce – this is an outstanding opportunity to confirm the preferred communication method of the parent.

II. Outcomes

• A parent should leave with a clear understanding of what their child has been learning and will be learning in the future. This does not mean you tell them about the ‘Rainforest Unit.’ This means that you talk to them about the standards, skills, and desired outcomes that drive your class. If those things are not documented and driving the class, there are much larger issues at hand than a negative conference.

III. Grade

• Grades mean much to parents. This is an opportunity to explain how you grade to your parents, but danger lurks if you do not sincerely believe in your grading system. Worse, is when you cannot articulate or defend current grading practices. Grading for behavior, issuing tons of extra credit, have students receiving As but performing far below standard are areas that will be exploited in these conversations. Grades must mean something and measure what they were told is important in terms of outcomes. Additionally, artifacts should be available to show parents their student’s performance compared to the expected standard that you can clearly explain. There is nothing worse than not being able to articulate what a rubric says or realizing during the conference that your rubric is not strong.

IV. Comparative data

• Most parents want to know where their student is in comparison to their peers so national benchmarking data is generally appreciated. A common pitfall here is the desire to simply congratulate the parents of the students doing well – that is not okay. Those students deserve to be pushed and grow as much as any other student – and you should have a plan for doing so.

V. Your goals for the student for the rest of the year

• Any PTC that ends with the parent believing that the teacher is as committed to their student’s success as they are is a resounding success. In order to demonstrate that a teacher must invest time and energy in to creating desired outcomes for that student in the future -

VI. Student character

• Everyone wants to know about who their student is when they are not around. Students that receive discipline in class or school already may have an idea, but the for the 85% of students that do exactly what they should on a daily basis this is a time to explain that to their parents. Is the student a leader, follower, enjoys helping others, or some other type of characteristic? The parent not have any idea that their child exhibits those skills or maybe they have just never had their efforts as a parent validated. This also demonstrates to the parent that you see their child as a person beyond just a student.

VII. How the parent can serve as a better partner

• It should never be lost that the PTC is not intended to be the peak of parent-teacher interaction throughout the year. The purpose is to better engage the family in the education of their child. This should include advice on how the parent can serve as a better partner in their child’s education. Think about it – you will never have a better chance than you during this meeting.


The More Things Change . . .

Posted by PJ Caposey on June 25, 2014 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Education has arguably changed more in the past ten years than it had in the previous fifty. Different people meet change with different reactions. Some are in favor of each new idea that comes forth, some against, and some see the purpose in all of the change but are having a hard time stomaching the mass amount of change in such a short period of time. In my experience, very few people in Illinois are less than overwhelmed with all that is taking place and also less than confident that each new mandate will mean an improved educational system for our students. Simply put, there is a lot of action and little to inspire confidence that it will end with the desired outcome. Therefore, the need for outstanding school leaders who are able to set vision and stay disciplined is greater than ever before.

In a time of perpetual change sometimes the best solutions lie in what has been a constant for years. Two things immediately come to mind as educational stalwarts that have stood the test of time – and if used in combination I believe can truly lead to resounding school success: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning and the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model as popularized by Rick DuFour and Solution Tree. The philosophy behind the four questions that drive the PLC model are simple, yet encompass nearly everything within the educational process: what do students need to know and be able to do; how will we know if they do; what will we do if they do not know what they need to; what will we do when they already know it. DuFour popularized this model after becoming entrenched in the Baldridge model (Illinois Performance Excellence in this state). To get to the core function of what needs to take place, the Baldridge Model attempts to ‘lean’ all organizational systems. This directly aligns with the Apple motto popularized under late-CEO Steve Jobs “Simplify.”

It is hard to examine anything in education that does not fall within the four questions of the PLC with a focus on critical thinking skills defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy. Everything from RtI, to PARCC or SmarterBalanced, to the increased emphasis on rigor (Bloom’s) through the Common Core State Standards fits directly in these two models or frameworks. Schools focused on the PLC model and rigorous instruction utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy have no need to ‘initiative chase.' Schools without focus or alignment will be continually chasing the next solution instead of staying aligned to what works in education in addition to other foci they have determined to be important to their schools or districts.

Great by Choice is a book that examines companies that have had incredible, sustained success. One of the characteristics of the companies that have been able to achieve sustained success is fanatical discipline. Fanatical discipline is the ability to say no to opportunities that seem great and to instead stay dogged in the pursuit of what is important to the organization. Pursuing non-essential and unsustainable grant funding is an area schools often lose discipline. The perceived benefit of seeking ‘free money’ is often not weighed against how it fits in to the master plan and how the time and energy expended on the ‘free money’ will impact the primary goals of the organization. Simply put, great schools exhibit fantastic discipline and have the ability to say no, when most people would say yes. Those schools constantly chasing the next big thing will find the more things change – the more they stay the same.


Illinois . . . where kids are not a priority

Posted by PJ Caposey on March 18, 2014 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

This is an excerpt from the most recent email from our State Superintendent . . . depressing on multiple levels. My question is how is there not more media coverage of this . . . 


Last week, the Board approved the 2014 Financial Profiles, which show our public school districts continue to struggle financially with 532 – or nearly 62 percent – of school districts deficit spending this year compared to 32 percent in 2008. Additionally, 23 percent of our districts estimate they will have less than 100 days of cash on-hand at the end of this current fiscal year.

Our analysis, based on Fiscal Year 2013 district financial reports, shows an increase in the proceeds of bond sales, which means that districts are funding deficit spending with long-term debt. Currently, one-third of our students are served by districts in the lowest two Financial Profile designations. In addition, the average wealth per pupil in those districts designated under “Financial Watch,” the lowest category, is one-third less than the state average, which means that those districts that are the most reliant on state funding are going to be the hardest hit as additional state funds are cut from education. These circumstances, as you well know, are often the result of continued underfunding by the state.

On Friday, I was asked to provide testimony to House Appropriations Committee members on the impact of a $967 million budget reduction to K-12 education. This hearing was requested because of the state’s projected revenue shortfall. General State Aid comprises nearly 70 percent of the state’s K-12 budget and if you add Mandated Categoricals, you account for 92 percent of the K-12 budget. Any reductions in the education budget of that magnitude would require a significant reduction to GSA.

I provided some stark statistics for the committee hearing, which was attended by only three legislators. An additional $967 million reduction to GSA would increase the amount of proration from today’s 89 percent to about 65 percent. Such a reduction would double the number of Illinois school districts in “Financial Watch,” increasing from 49 to 113. The number of districts deficit spending would increase from 532 to 724, or roughly 84 percent of all districts would be in deficit spending. We anticipate that more than 30 districts would not survive the year if such reductions were to take place. Regardless of where such reductions were to occur in the budget, Illinois would be sending a clear message that our children are not our priority.