Russo's Ramblings


Welcome to Point A to Point B, a place I am proud of. It represents my thoughts and ideas over a span of seven years (2004-2011) while I was a technology integration specialist. I have moved into a different position, and am concentrating my efforts in different ways.

The hiatus is over (see post below). I am closing this shop, but not taking it down. I think this site has, and may continue to, provide value. At the very least, it is a chronicle of progress for me. Since I am reframing my own point a and point b, there may be a future iteration of the site if and when the time seems right.

If you find yourself here, welcome. I’m glad you stopped by.

Russo's Ramblings

Taking a Hiatus

I’m going to take a break from writing/updating here at Point A to Point B. As I move into my new role as an administrator for both the Arts and Career and Technical Education (CTE), I continue to enjoy the writing and reflecting I do, as well as providing useful information to those I work with. I am beginning to feel that there may be other ways (sites, channels, forums, etc.) online to do this, and am going to take a while to figure that out.

In the meantime, you can see what’s on my mind through my Twitter feed or my Diigo library.


Arts in Amherst, New York

I have been thinking about the many opportunities for experiencing the arts. Since I am the arts administrator for the Williamsville schools,  I started looking around for the places within the Town of Amherst one could go to find arts performances and/or installations (artwork, museums, etc.). With the help of Google Maps, here is what I have come up with so far:

View Arts in Amherst in a larger map

There are many opportunities in Amherst, and I’m sure there are more, but lets take a look at some of the major categories.

Since I work for one of the public school districts in Amherst, let’s start there. If you check out the calendars for high school arts events in the Amherst, Sweet Home and Williamsville school districts alone, there is enough to keep one busy and thoroughly entertained throughout the year. From concerts, to art shows, to musicals, there is outstanding young talent pouring out of our local schools.

Two diverse and unique museums in the Town of Amherst are the Amherst Museum, located in the very northern tip of the town, and the Museum of disAbility History, located in the southern west corner.

As their website states, you can visit the Amherst Museum to:

Experience 19th-century life on the Niagara Frontier and tour historic homes, churches and one-room schoolhouses on our beautiful 35-acre grounds with exhibits on local history, textiles, art and the Erie Canal.

The Williamsville District Art Show is held annually at the Amherst Museum. It is a great way to show off our talented students and also bring the community to a great venue within the district. I had the opportunity to tour the museum grounds this summer, and was incredibly impressed by the grounds and potential for other performances there. They also have many special events and themes throughout the year that are geared for all ages.

The Museum of disAbility History is:

“…dedicated to the collection, preservation and display of artifacts pertaining to the history of people with disabilities.”

The museum has a unique and important mission and provides many community events to support education about people with disabilities. You can read more about it in this article from the Amherst Bee. The also sponsors the disAbilities Film Festival and Speaker Series, held at UB each year.

In the music arena, The Amherst Symphony Orchestra is a cornerstone in the town. They have an outstanding lineup of concerts each year while in residence at Amherst Middle School. A community group with ages ranging from high school students through seasoned retirees, the ASO is a fantastic group to listen to when you have the opportunity. In addition to their regular concert season, you can find the ASO each summer at the Amherst Museum for their “Music at the Museum” concert.

If theatre is your preference, Amherst is home to at least three theatre companies with regular schedules and performance spaces. Simply by driving down Main Street from West to East, you will pass the MusicalFare Theatre, Academy of Theatre Arts, and O’Connell and Company. These companies provide opportunities for young and old alike to participate in and/or enjoy an array of diverse productions.

A conversation about arts in Amherst would not be complete without reviewing the many resources available in the University at Buffalo (UB). From the flagship Center for the Arts, to Lippes Concert Hall, to the UB Art Gallery, UB is a driving force in the arts community. Since the Center for the Arts opened, it has become a major player in Western New York for attracting top arts events.

So, if you were to lay out an annual calendar and pick just a few events from each of the organizations outlined above, you would find yourself in artful bliss just about every day of the year. In many cases, you would be double- and triple-booked on the same day. Now I am not saying for a moment that one should stay within the limits of the Town of Amherst for great arts. My point is to simply take stock of the multitude of opportunities within a few minutes of the front door.

I can’t wait to soak up some great arts in Amherst!

Conferences Learning

A Space is Worth a Thousand Ideas: Word11 at the CSI Annex Toronto

Work area at CSI Annex

Imagine walking into the space above to learn. That is what I had the opportunity to do at Word11 in Toronto this weekend. Word11 was an event for bloggers to get together to learn and share about the purpose and business of blogging. The space is the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) Annex, one of two (soon to be three) properties run by the CSI.

Center for Social Innovation, you wonder? It is a community workspace. From their site, the CSI intends to:

“… catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world.”

Regarding the space, CSI states:

“Shared space forms the bedrock of our model. Being physically together is what sets the conditions for new relationships, new projects and unexpected outcomes.”

Shared working spaces are popping up all over the world. Check out the article, Collaborate, Create, Co-work, from the August 2011 issue of Go magazine. The article highlights co-working spaces in the U.S. including Sandbox Suites (San Francisco), Coop (Chicago), and WeWork (New York City).

Bloggers at Word11 were a collaborative group by nature, and the energy coming from the interactions was awesome . I had the opportunity to speak with a diverse array of people and found all the conversations rewarding. I definitely put myself in the casual blogger category, and the stream “developing the casual blogger” had many great talks. It was great to interact with such talented professionals and entrepreneurs.

It is no surprise that that the CSI Annex was the location chosen for the event. It got me to thinking about what if school spaces were designed like this? What could happen if students were able to cross-pollinate their ideas in collaborative setups, instead of like this:

Now I am not saying that every classroom is like this – that is simply not true. However, by and large, the design of schools built more that 30 years ago (which is most schools) have inherent space issues (aka walls) that inhibit the flexible, dynamic setup seen in co-working environments.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills just recently released a new publication and video titled Above and Beyond. The idea is to foster thinking about what they call the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Here is the publication:  4 Cs Poster

And here is the video:

I know where I really want to work and learn, and I think our students want (need) such spaces as well. Thank you, Word11, for organizing such a great event in such a great space!

Image credit: BYU Observation Classroom from Cherice on Flickr


Off to Word11

I am excited to be going to Word11 in Toronto this Saturday, which is affectionately titled the blogging event of the century. It is a 24-hour  venue for bloggers to listen to speakers during the day, and get into serious writing/sharing/geeking out overnight. I’m only doing the day gig, but the whole thing sounds cool. Word11 is the new Toronto-area version of the previous WordCamp Toronto, which was a great experience. I’m looking forward to what the day will bring!

Russo's Ramblings

Albany’s Educational Alphabet Soup

I believe one of my strengths is understanding structure in organizations. I have to admit it has taken me a while to begin to understand the structure of the New York State Education Department (NYSED). I used to think that NYSED was the main educational system in the state – it is the main educational executive body – but the actual lead organization is the University of the State of New York (USNY). USNY is run by the Board of Regents, who in turn direct NYSED to carry out the mission of USNY.

I feel like I’m writing in circles when I describe it.

Additionally, USNY should not be confused with the State University of New York (SUNY), which is the public higher education system within New York. I guess I would prefer if the USNY title and acronym would just go away and we could have NYSED be the lead group, but that’s just me.

So, to get a handle on what USNY is in charge of, here is the description from the site:

The University of the State of New York (USNY) is the most complete, interconnected system of educational services in the United States. USNY includes:

  • More than 7,000 public and private elementary and secondary schools;
  • 248 public and private colleges and universities;
  • 251 proprietary (for-profit) schools;
  • Nearly 7,000 libraries including the New York State Library;
  • 750 museums;
  • The State Archives;
  • Vocational rehabilitation and other services for adults with disabilities;
  • Special education services for pre-school and school-age children and teenagers;
  • A School for the Blind;
  • A School for the Deaf;
  • 25 public broadcasting facilities, including seven public television stations;
  • More than 750,000 professionals practicing in 48 licensed professions, including, for example, pharmacy, architecture, accounting, and nursing; and
  • 240,000 certified public school teachers, counselors, and administrators.

That is a whopping amount of responsibility for one group – the Board of Regents is in charge of all this. The part I find most interesting as I pick it apart is the next section which describes how all of these agencies work together:

Although these organizations are dedicated to maintaining and improving education, they usually work within their respective sector. Each entity of this educational system is both an official and organic component of the University of the State of New York. The challenge and the opportunity are for the sectors to work together as a whole bringing unmatched resources in people, information, facilities, technology, artifacts, and relationships to face educational issues of the twenty-first century.

The part I highlighted in bold and italics above is the part I am most intrigued by. When you consider that everything from nurse licensing, to public television, to the New York State Library, to public and private schools are governed by the same institution, you start to get a sense of the breadth (and challenge) of USNY.

I bring all of this up as I study some of the curriculum areas I am responsible for. In addition to Art and Music, I coordinate the subject areas of Business Education and Home and Career Skills. Both of these areas fall under the auspices of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at the NYSED website. When you browse the CTE section, it takes a while to understand the site layout, in that there are subject area “tabs” below the heading, as well as specific sub-sections along the left navigation area:

The CTE page is part of the Prekindergarten through Grade 12 (P-12) section of the NYSED site. P-12 Education is one of the main program offices for NYSED. As an aside, the person in charge of the P-12 Education office, John King, was recently promoted to Commissioner of Education and President of USNY.

I hope I’m not sending your brain in circles – I’m just trying to get mine in order :-). At the end of the day, the NYSED website attempts to deliver an incredible amount of information, and it can be very complex to understand.

I will leave you with two items which help me get a handle on NYSED USNY. First, an organization chart showing the big picture setup. Second, a list of acronyms used in NYSED. If you thought I used a lot of them here, check out that list. How’s that for alphabet soup?

Russo's Ramblings

The Arts in Education – A Look at the Next Few Years

I am a firm believer in the core role the Arts play in developing critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (see this report from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills organization). In light of the impending changes due to budgetary issues in New York, a new teacher appraisal process, and the national focus on the Common Core State Standards, three items stand out as a testament to the continuing need for Arts in the schools.

The first item I want to address is the coming Common Core State Standards. In a talk to a group of New York State Education Department (NYSED) stakeholders, Davide Coleman reflected on the role of the Arts:

“Rather than looking at how the Arts can serve literacy, I want to think instead about the special things that the Arts can do that literacy hasn’t been as good at today. You might say what the art teachers can teach the rest of us.”

~David Coleman, Architect of the Common Core State Standards, 28 April 2010

In Coleman’s address to NYSED, he spends a good amount of time outlining what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) might look like. To see all of his comments related to the Arts, click here. The comments on the Arts begin at 11:00 in the video clip. Click here to see the full video (worth the 2 hours) or here for the full transcript.

Colemean attests to the central role Arts should play in school. I think this is reflected in NYSED’s timeline for implementing the CCSS. The timeline specifically addressees how the standards will be rolled out first in ELA, Math, and the Arts. Click here to see the timeline.

The second item I would like to address is the National Arts Policy Roundtable report, The Role of the Arts in Educating America for Great Leadership and Economic Strength. The group that produced the report represents a diverse international group of artists and thinkers who convene at the Sundance Institute. In the introduction to the report, the co-conveners Robert Lynch and Robert Redford state:

“The arts are not only what is needed to reform education—they can transform it.”

~Robert Lynch & Robert Redford, Co-conveners of the National Arts Policy Roundtable

The report does an excellent job of outlining Arts education forces around the world, including UNESCO. Reference is specifically made to the Seoul Agenda, which was UNESCO’s World Conference on Arts Education in 2010. The section of the report, Your Brain on the Arts, provides specific examples of research on brain development and the Arts.

The third item I would like to address is a report released recently by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. What I like particularly about this report are the recommendations on how to further promote and integrate Arts in schools, in the face of changing policy and reduced funding. The recommendations are:

1. Build collaborations among different approaches [to Arts education].
2. Develop the field of Arts integration.
3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists.
4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of Arts in K-12 education.
5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about Arts education.

The report goes in-depth in providing specific examples and building the case for the above action steps. I think it is a very concrete road map to focus on what is important in Arts education, and how to support and promote Arts in the schools.

Let me finish by saying that Williamsville has a long-standing tradition of supporting a wide variety of Arts programs, both in and outside the curriculum. The next few years will be challenging to the district, as it will be for all New York State schools, while we implement the Regents’ Reform Agenda and face severe budget issues. Perhaps the recommendations from the President’s Committee can help the conversations as we proceed.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am thrilled to be working in a district that has an exemplary model for Arts education, and am looking forward to working with our great staff as we continue the important work of Arts education.

Learning Russo's Ramblings

New Tagline

As I mentioned in a recent post, with my new position, I have been wondering about the tagline for the blog. The tagline is what appears just under the title of the blog, which is Point A to Point B (see the top of the page). I have decided since my new role expands beyond technology tools to curriculum, I will expand the tagline as well.

The previous tagline was:
“Technology is transforming learning. All you need is an idea of where you are and where you need to go.”

The new tagline is:
“Learning is Job #1”

This tagline really reflects my personal bias – learning, in any form, is what school (and life) is about. I think this is a fitting time to once again share my favorite quote:

The best thing for being sad, replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.
~Merlin to Wart (Young Arthur) in The Once and Future King by T.H. White

I am really looking forward to how the blog grows in a new direction!

People Russo's Ramblings

Thank You Heim Middle

As I finish up this week at Heim Middle and get ready to begin my new position at district office, I wholeheartedly say thank you to all of the great people at Heim. It is hard to believe that I have been here nine years – wow did the time fly! Part of the reason for this is my children – those of you at Heim long enough have been part of their birth and growth. It seems like just yesterday when Adam and Anna visited as infants, and later came dressed up as a lion and tiger for Halloween when they were four and three. Now they just finished second grade and kindergarten, and it just gets faster.

I start by talking about my family because I consider myself incredibly fortunate, and proud, to say I am part of the Heim family. It is said often that Heim is a special place, and that is because it is. As you know, when you run into a Heim alum, they immediately start reminiscing about a memory here. A comment made many times that sticks out in my mind is when someone is asked to describe Heim in one word. Without hesitation the reply is “family.” Absolutely true. The members of the family change regularly, but like relatives, the Heim family has a special connection no matter where in the world they are.

We have made great progress in technology in the last nine years. When I first arrived, I remember that the number one task was to make sure there was an iMac (blueberry to be specific) in each classroom so teachers could do email. Jump to this year when teachers offer up a menu of technology choices for students to pick from for their projects. There are many reasons for the progress we have made, and the most significant one is the desire and willingness by the faculty to try new things and help each other out. We could never have done many of the things we did without many of you stepping up and sharing your expertise with your colleagues. Additionally, I attribute much of the progress in recent years to the district focus on incorporating technology. Major projects such as placing the projectors in every classroom could not happen without major district-wide direction.

Speaking of district-wide direction, that leads me to the topic of the new structure for the technology integrators next year. While it is true the middle schools will have less access to this resource than they have had in the past, the elementary and high schools will have more access, which is a good thing. I can tell you that the technology integrators team for next year is dynamite, and I know you will enjoy working with them when you have the opportunity. I hope that the new model of district technology integrators will lead to creating more such positions in the future.

As for me, I am thrilled to be taking on my new role as Instructional Specialist for Fine and Performing Arts, Business Education and Home and Careers (my son loves saying that). I know it is a surprise to some of you who did not know my background is music. Some people have said I am going back to my “roots.” Personally, I just think I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.

In any case, this is my way of trying to express how special a place Heim will always be to me.

Thank you Heim Middle. You have made me a better person. I am forever grateful for it.


New Technology Integrator Position

As part of the reorganization of the district for next year, the building-based middle school technology facilitators are going to become district-based technology integration specialists. It will be a similar role to what was going on in one building, but in the new design, the integrators will be able to help teachers across the district. If I had not moved into my new job as an Instructional Specialist, I would have been one of these technology integrators. On the job posting are “typical work activities,” which I have listed below. In between are my comments on what I think each means.

Technology Integrator Typical Work Activities

1. Assumes leadership responsibilities in district- and building-based efforts to design and implement consistent technology integration strategies to increase the probability of improved student achievement.

  • I think the key to this is consistency across the district and within buildings. It is very hard to link technology use to improved student achievement, but consistent, targeted efforts to use technology really should help.

2. Meets with Instructional Specialists and building administrators to determine curricular focus, need, and implementation of pertinent technology integration strategies.

  • This is one of the strongest benefits of the new job structure. The ability to plan with district and building administration will be key to rolling out technology. As an Instructional Specialist, I am already planning ways in which I would like to use the Integrators, and get my colleagues to capitalize on them as well. 🙂

3. Assumes leadership responsibilities in organizing, assessing, designing and implementing appropriate training activities to assist faculty in infusing technology to support the curriculum.

  • This is the “meat” of the job. Setting up and delivering training to staff is the main and most important job. There will be less direct contact with students, but much more during-the-day and after-school training.

4. Understands and supports technology components of the emerging NYS Reform Agenda.

  • The New York State Teaching Standards, approved in January of this year by the Board of Regents, clearly spells how how technology is an integral part of instruction. I highlighted these performance indicators in a recent post (found here). Whether you love it or hate it, the daily professional life of teachers is going to change significantly due to the Race To The Top initiative that New York is a part of.

5. Assists in the development, implementation, and monitoring of the District Technology Plan.

  • Like all districts, we have a three year technology plan that drives the overall direction for technology. It only makes sense that the Integrators are a player in it.

6. Stays on top of current trends and research in technology integration, and assists faculty in becoming familiar with new and emerging technologies to solve problems and improve job performance.

  • This is actually one of the most fun things to do – keep up with the geeky stuff and show it off! At the same time, it is important to not get caught up in the latest thing just because it is “cool.”

7. Participates in district, BOCES, or other appropriate training to build knowledge and skills.

  • Going along with number 6, this is important in order to be able to keep up.

8. Maintains a staff relationship and meets regularly with building Technology Facilitators to discuss hardware, software, and training support for technology integration strategies.

  • Since the Technology Integrators are now totally separate from the Technology Facilitators, this is an important connection to the buildings. Each Integrator will be responsible for working with three or four buildings. I think the Technology Integrators should make it a point to be at building Technology Committee meetings each month at their buildings to maintain the lines of communication.

9. Attends District Technology Committee meetings.

  • This is an easy one, and very informative. The District Technology Committee oversees the District Technology Plan, so this is an obvious connection (see number 5).

10. Coordinates with the Instructional Specialist for Professional Development, the Assistant Superintendent for Technology Services, and the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction to assist in planning for district-wide professional development activities which support technology integration.

  • Once again, this is key to rolling out technology integration. Similar to what has gone on recently in the district, including last October’s Staff Development Day for Technology, the Technology Integrators will be very involved in district initiatives.

11. Works collaboratively to assess and report student technology literacy.

  • One of the challenges the middle school technology facilitators have faced each year is how to assess and report 8th grade technology literacy, as it is a required reporting item for New York State. On one hand, it is easy to report “skills,” but on the other hand it is difficult to measure “literacy.” This will always continue to be an interesting discussion.

12. Collaborates with the Assistive Technology Team, as needed, to support students with learning needs, to implement recommended tools/devices, and assist faculty to apply universal design principles when selecting technology integration strategies for lessons.

  • We have a model Assistive Technology Team in the district who do an amazing job. In this new role, the ability to work with them more is a very exciting proposition.


The job description is quite detailed, and as far as I can determine, right on. Technology integration revolves around keeping up with what is going on, providing training, monitoring progress, and always staying focused on improving learning for students and staff. This is an exciting position and I am very excited for the people who are going to have these positions!