Busy or Productive? School leaders can avoid the “busy syndrome.” 

It’s been crazy fast and “busy” at school the last two weeks.  This is the time of the school year that seems to get stressful. We are a month into the year, the start of the year enthusiasm is dwindling and everyone is “busy.” That said, I wrote this blog for myself and thought maybe I can help someone else who is feeling this way. I had a district budget due, a board meeting to prepare for, while rebounding from an unsuccessful millage campaign (which I had worked very hard on) and all that was making me feel busy, not productive. It was time to refocus my priorities and my system.

As we have been working on with our admin team, there is a difference in being busy and being productive. Either way school leadership seems stressful, but a leader can be productive and still have time to focus on relationships with people. We live in a world where everyone feels so “busy.”  We constantly believe that we don’t have time. The reality is we never have time to finish EVERYTHING.

Stress grows when leaders get caught up in the illusion of always being “busy,” rushed, and not having enough time for people. When this happens, we turn people off and then our stress grows because we feel when others don’t want to be around us.  Instead of trying to do everything at once and being so “busy” all of the time, successful people set priorities. They get organized and realize we could work 24 hrs a day and not accomplish everything.

How do we become productive vs busy and still make time for people? Here is the system I use to combat the “busy syndrome” (some content courtesy of Early to Rise).

1. End each day with a brain dump. I write down everything in my mind before I wind down at night and organize my calendar for the next day.

2. Early to Rise. I get up 15 minutes earlier so I can have an extra 15 minutes each morning to get some things done, exercise, and feel more productive. I try (unsuccessfully) to never hit snooze.

3. Craft my Focus. Each morning in the reminders section of my iPhone I make a list from my brain dump notes and calendar. I shoot for no more than 3-5 things each day. This approach gives me plenty of time to take some breaks, walk the campuses, and talk to kids/staff (However, I do schedule this time 2x each week).

4. Start with Appreciation. I begin each morning at the office with my appreciation journal and copy my focus from my iPhone into my journal.  Again, to refocus my day. By starting the day listing what I appreciate, it helps me cultivate a grateful attitude and remain positive. I try to plan the most daunting tasks first. As the day wears on, my focus lessens and people demand more of our time in the afternoons.

5. Create a Central Hub. Our central office admin team uses the app Wunderlist to communicate and prioritize big projects. We meet 2x a week and try to discuss where we are and check our list. Another great app to use is Slack.

6. Schedule. I schedule every day to stay organized. As a team, we use Google Calendar and it helps to keep us focused, communicate without face 2 face time, and stay on task. We have so many requests for our time; without it, I’m not sure how many meetings and events I would miss. 🙂

If you’re feeling super busy and overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing. Take the time to get organized. Make some sort of to-do list and create a system. Next, pick the three most important things that must get done. Schedule and get those three items out of the way. Organization and scheduling ease your mind so you can get the most out of your work time!

By taking the time to organize your priorities, you can become more productive and still have time to focus on people. If you schedule tasks with time in between, you can use that time to engage in meaningful conversations and build relationships while still getting things done!  Good Luck 🍀

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#GoodtoGreat 


At the June Star City School District Board  Meeting, the Board of Directors had the opportunity to consider a millage proposal. They authorized the district to seek a refinance of current bond issues and a 1.75 mill increase. This opportunity could make a positive impact for future generations and our community.

The revenue generated will provide a step increase of $500 to the salary schedule of classified and certified employees, add security doors and cameras on each campus, construct a covered walkway, additional parking and safe sidewalks at JBE, additional parking and safe sidewalks at SCMS, construct a new arena, and add upgrades to Bulldog Stadium.




We hope the following facts will play an important role as the voters in our county consider the millage:

1. Revenue will be used to raise salaries for certified and classified staff.

2. Revenue will be used to provide students a safe and secure campus.

3. Revenue will provide facilities improvements and new structures to support campuses and extracurricular opportunities.

Please consider voting in the September millage election. This vote is important to the future of our district. Below is a millage comparison of surrounding districts: 

 One Word: Impact

As 2016 comes to a close, getting the opportunity to reflect has been amazing! Just a year and a half ago I was trying to finish school, juggling my job, busier than ever and always “stressed.” For some reason I decided to go back to school and I was doubting that choice for a short time. During the first semester we had a professor who gave me clarity on my choice and impacted my trajectory with his leadership. 

Dr. McCullough taught our leadership class and lived in a way we should all aspire to achieve. The impact he made on me changed my attitude and who I strive to be. There was not one time during the semester he did not model positivity and joy. He was always positive with each student no matter the situation. He made me feel stronger than I believed I could be, and he inspired me not to be afraid to take a risk. 

He wasn’t the “best” content teacher I’ve ever had. I say that with the utmost respect because he was one of the best leaders I have ever had the pleasure to learn from. We rarely used the textbook, but when his class ended all of us wanted to have him again second semester! I learned more about leadership and being positive from his example than any class content in my program. He led us by being positive, choosing joy, building people up and focusing on people’s strengths. The lesson he shared was any of us can chose to do “whatever it takes” to be successful. 

As I get the opportunity to reflect on last year, I know why Dr. McCullough was my teacher, why I took the challenge to go back to school, and why our first semester at Star City Schools has been a great one. We chose our attitude. We chose to focus on the positive. While the district was at a low point financially, while people were  jumping ship, and others lamented the past, we were busy setting our WHY and being positive. We established our moral purpose and adopted the simple phrase, “Whatever It Takes” as the mission. We got on the bus with Joy.

We will be successful at Star City Schools, we have great people who believe in each other and what we do. Being positive and knowing if I fall short that I can learn, has impacted me greatly. In our district, “Whatever It Takes” means positivity and learning to bounce back from failure together. This mission has helped us to overcome some large challenges. 

In the end, one of the most important lessons in my life came from a challenge: Choosing  and monitoring my own attitude and how it will impact my life. Thanks to the impact of Dr. M, I will be successful and I hope to IMPACT others positively in 2017, “Whatever It Takes.” 

#Oneword2017- IMPACT

Redefining “Whatever It Takes”

As the summer winds down and the school year cranks up, it’s time to reflect on what we have learned. We also must set the stage for next year’s progress. In a new position as the leader in a district, many things come at you and right in your office door. Listening, looking, digging, and assessing our district has me excited to begin anew. 

Star City School District is a rural district that has so many wonderful people and exciting opportunities ahead of us. Providing a world class STEM education, access to technology for all students, teaching creativity, colloboration, communication, and critical thinking are just beyond our reach. 

Redefine means to change the way people look at something. We want to redefine our Mission statement “Whatever It Takes.” After redefining our mission, we must set the vision for our district. As we move ahead into our vision, we must include: 

Why – This is the moral purpose of the district. It’s why the district exists. 

How – This is how the school district fulfills that moral purpose.

What – This is what the district does to fulfill that moral purpose.

The work ahead is paramount to our success in the future. The challenge lies in getting our faculty and staff all on the same bus and getting there with limited financial resources. We must put students at the forefront of all decisions. Our students, families and community are counting on us. We will make it, “Whatever It Takes.”

Help, We are Building a Master Schedule…

All secondary principals, assistant principals, and counselors are charged with building a master schedule for their school. Do you have a team? Do you put students or adults first in your system? What is your process? Who helps you build this jigsaw puzzle that can fall apart?

When I first began in education, the principal handed the keys to the counselor and no one saw her for two weeks. I saw this at a few schools, then I became the principal. I realized I had no training and didn’t want to throw it on my counselor’s back with no help. I knew the adults in the building would be “upset” at her if they did not get the schedule they want.

We changed the process and made it work for us after taking a team to training with a guy we will call “Ed”. We made it a leadership team process where we invited teachers to help so they could see we weren’t just placing classes on the board anymore. Transparency was important to us, but not many teachers wanted to put in the time to help due to many teaching responsibilities. We made sure to take course selections and allow teachers to know that students drive the courses and the singletons, doubletons, and multiple sections drive the number of sections and placement. Using the conflict matrix and system, this became a challenge our team enjoyed, because it was about students not adults anymore.

We have applied a “growth mindset” as we try to make the process better each year. When we decided to go Flex Mod, collaborating with River Bluff High School was key to our growth. One of our teacher leaders helped the year before and  he knew there had to be a more efficient way. Blackhawk Flex software was born because of his dedication, and we used it to be more efficient and cleaner this year! Due to hard work of our counselors, master teachers, and dedicated teachers, our schedule was a challenge but something we all enjoyed working on together.

As I move on from my current role as principal, I’m proud to have built a team oriented, student-driven schedule system and a team that can sustain the success!

Is Your School Flexible?

Sometimes the end of the school year feels busier than the beginning! We spend most of our time preparing schedules, filing waivers, hiring new teachers, planning next years PD and trying to balance it all. I find myself spending more time preparing for next year than connecting with faculty and students. As we’ve been working to finish the Master Schedule, I find myself incredibly grateful for the Flex Mod Schedule. Our flexibility allows my team to schedule in a way that truly meets the needs of our students.

The past few weeks while working very hard at school, I’ve also been working with the team at PACE to prepare for the Flex Summit this June. We are proud to announce that not will we have Daisy Dyer Duer join us but also George Philhower! Both are innovative educational leaders with unique experience that will provide attendees with the confidence needed to take the jump and build the innovative personalized cultures that  students need.

I invite you to join us this summer at the Flex Summit at the University of Arkansas and learn how you can build a school culture that serves your students..instead of your students serving the school culture. Even if you are not planning on implementing a flex schedule, this conference will open your eyes to what you can do with innovation and a great team!

WHY CHANGE?Our Kids Deserve It…

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Flex Mod Scheduling: “Time serving STUDENTS instead of STUDENTS serving time.”

Flexible Mod Scheduling is an innovative schedule built on creating a personalized learning environment for students. How did you feel the last time you sat through an eight hour meeting? Bored? Tired? Frustrated? Now consider that we ask our students to navigate this schedule every day of the entirety of their high school career. When relegated to a traditional “one size fits all schedule”, it is not surprising that many students don’t like coming to school!

Flex Mod Scheduling focuses on students by allowing for every student to have choice in their day.  Each student averages 25% of their weekly time to independent learning time. During this time students are able to receive individual or small group tutoring, collaborate with peers, read, workout, practice an instrument or anything else that interests them.  

Flex Mod Scheduling also focuses on teachers.  With an average of 33% of the teacher work week devoted to independent learning time, the flex mod schedule provides much needed “time” to the teacher workday.  This schedule creates time for teachers to individualize instruction and work collaboratively. Teachers are now able to focus on why many of us got into education: building relationships with students and teaching the 21st Century skills that matter to our students’ future.

Right now is the time to try personalized learning, why would you wait? See you at the FLEX MOD SUMMIT!

https://sites.google.com/a/pacesn.com/flex-mod-summit-2016/

Jon Laffoon