Welcome!

Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MASC Conference Wrap Up

As promised, some things that struck me as particularly meaningful.......

* Most if not all districts are struggling with the problems caused by unfunded mandates (in other words, practices that state law says we have to perform, but for which they don't provide 100% funding). Districts can and should work with legislators to explain the challenges and help them propose solutions; finding time is tough.

* Districts have to make every single dollar do the work of many dollars. Data from a wide variety of sources must be gathered to thoughtfully design how resources are used to support giving our students the best education possible. Can districts partner for more purchasing power? Can technology be implemented to manage paperwork processes to redirect money for things like teaching and textbooks? Is there a way to start any special education programs so students can stay in the district?

* Plan, set goals, implement objectives and actions, use data to measure effectiveness; then repeat, repeat, repeat...........

* We are in a new era of communication and schools struggle to find the manpower, time, and money to understand and build communication mechanisms and systems that are prevalent in private industry. How do districts engage a community with social media (mechanism)? How do community members get to tell what they are thinking (system)? What are the communication priorities and what are the choices that must be made between and among communication investments and teaching students?

* Bullying is serious and it is a community-wide challenge - not just schools, not just homes, not just the time in-between. Two keys: using evidence-based programs and information, and like they say on the T, "if you see something, say something."

* Parent involvement is critical to helping students. Parents want to be involved. Schools want parents involved. Finding on-going ways for every single parent to know they are wanted and welcomed as educational partners is particularly important given the rapid pace of change in how teachers teach and how students learn. It's way different from when you and I went to school :)

* There are so many hard-working, talented, and kind educators, parents, legislators, volunteers, community members - and most important - students, who are willing to give of their time, talent, and treasure to improve education in the Commonwealth and around the country. Although we face constant challenge, it's important to remember to celebrate the successes - and right now I bet you can picture the face of a student who finally figured out that confounding math problem or could eloquently explain the simplicity and beauty of the Gettysburg Address. That's the goal we all share.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Day Football Tix.....

Did you know that by purchasing your Thanksgiving Day football tickets in Melrose prior to game day, all those proceeds come back to Melrose? (It works the same in Wakefield for you Warrior fans.) Receipts for tickets purchased at the game are split 50-50 between Melrose and Wakefield. So if you think that turkey will taste better with a side order of Red Raider pride, head to Gray’s Appliance, the Mayor’s office, or the Athletic Director’s Office of the Melrose Public Schools before the big day. Not only will you get a discount off the game-day price, you’ll be keeping 100% of your ticket price in our fair city!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

PARCC - It's Coming.......

Two presentations at the MASC Conference were related to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Here are some notes:

* PARCC is to the Common Core State Standards as MCAS is to the former Massachusetts curriculum frameworks except that PARCC will be computer-based. It was "developed in response to concerns of educators, parents, and employers who want assessments that better measure students' critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and their ability to communicate clearly."#

* ELA will look different from MCAS in that it will more carefully assess writing and critical-thinking. Math will look different from MCAS in that students will solve problems and show how they solved them.

* Unlike MCAS results that are announced in the fall, PARCC results are expected to be announced in the spring so that student needs can be considered earlier.

* How will it be better for students entering MA public colleges and universities?  Now, students are expected to take a test called Accuplacer which measures competency levels in math and language, and helps schools find the corresponding college level for students - but it doesn't necessarily measure what was happening in the high school's curriculum. PARCC is aligned with the curriculum and when administered, students scoring a 4 or higher will be considered college-ready and won't need to take competency tests (like Accuplacer) - they will already be considered college-ready. The expectation is that students will come better prepared for college, spend less time and money on remedial courses for which they must pay but for which they won't gain credits toward their degree, and as a result, complete their degree in the most efficient way possible. (According to Complete College America from 2012, 90% of community college students placed in remedial courses fail to get a 2-year degree within 3 years and 49% of state university and UMASS students in remedial courses fail to get a 4-year degree within 6 years.)

* The test is computer-based and is designed to engage students in problem-solving with colors, movement on the screen, etc. - something like the graphics that our students are used to.

* Concerns: Where will we get the money/training/infrastructure for this exam? How will we integrate this test when there are so many other things we are doing (Common Core curriculum; changing the way teachers are trained to help English Language Learners; making sure our teachers are evaluated fairly, regularly, and given support to help them improve; etc.)?

* Want to know more? Check out http://www.parcconline.org/

* In Melrose we are scheduled to field test PARCC in a number of schools but the final school and grade list isn't out yet. There are many other unknowns since the state is still making final decisions and rolling them out to districts. Supt. Taymore is following these developments closely and will keep us posted.......

    # noted from the PARCC web site as referenced above.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Basics of Policy"

In this reflective workshop at MASC's annual conference, the focus was on the difference between the roles of School Committees and Superintendents along with some policy guidance.

A great summation of School Committee vs. Superintendent responsibilities:
Superintendent vs. staff
Vision and goals vs. action plans
Policies vs. regulations
Budget vs. expenditures
Approves contracts vs. employee relations
Monitors progress vs. reports progress
Advocacy - both!
Decides what and why vs. decides when and how
End results (Ends) vs. Methods (Means)

When reviewing current policy, ask: 
* Is it legal?
* Does it reflect current practice?
* Is it working? If not, what needs to be changed?
* Do we need it? (Don't be afraid to repeal unneeded policies)

And remember....Not everything that is required, is required to be in a policy!

Good food for thought as we continue to review and update our policy manual..............

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Providing Leadership in Family Engagement"

A fascinating workshop at the MASC Conference featured staff and the School Committee Chairman from Somerville. Somerville has a significant population of non-English speakers and parents who are new to the US so family engagement is a significant issue there, but their lessons can be applied in any district...

Challenge Question: How to get traditionally uninvolved parents involved in a way that improves student learning?

Never forget: Some parents don't feel good about coming into a school building because of bad memories of their own schooling, cultural differences, intimidation, etc. It doesn't mean they don't care!

How do you rate your school?
* Unsatisfactory = the philosophy that the parents don't care and that is why their children fail
* Basic = the school will respond if parents call us
* Proficient = open door (curriculum nights, PTO meetings, 2x/yr. parent-teacher conferences, etc.)
* Advanced = parent networks are valued and cultivated, family activities are connected to student learning, home visits to every new family

The 6 types of family engagement:
* Parenting
* Communicating
* Volunteering
* Learning at home - parents talking to their children at home (very powerful)
* Decision-making
* Collaborating with the community

Ideas to address the challenge:
* District has goals around family and community engagement
* Each school has a plan
* Build these strands into each plan: family in the community, leadership and advocacy, teaching and learning, and the whole child

Required resources:
* Alignment to district plans and commitment to the effort
* Manpower
* Technology
* Data (do you know who comes into your school and who doesn't?)

For more information, check out:
http://www.somerville.k12.ma.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectionid=1215&url_redirect=1

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Lincoln School: Last to First Success Story"

For those folks who don't get the Free Press, this week's edition contained a thoughtful and interesting Sitting In opinion piece by Jennifer Leclerc.  Find it here:

http://www.wickedlocal.com/melrose/news/opinions/x529850732/Guest-Column-Lincoln-School-is-a-last-to-first-success-story

Thursday, November 14, 2013

City Wide PTO - 11/12/13

Here are notes from the monthly City Wide PTO meeting, coordinated by Bridge Director Jennifer McAllister and including representatives from each school building along with Superintendent Taymore.

Questions remain about the use of ASPEN:  All teachers will be using ASPEN but in varying ways at the different levels, and the district is committed (by virtue of good practice as well as the contract) to ensure that all staff is trained. IT Director Jorge Pazos is scheduling and executing the trainings. Elementary teachers are now using it to take attendance. Middle School teachers have had the most experience with it are using more components more completely, but are sometimes limited by the need for more computer memory. (Mr. Pazos has ordered the memory cards and is building a schedule to install them. Completion of this project was expected in the summer, but bringing the science labs on-line pushed the plan back.) High School teachers’ experience is mixed, but they are being uniformly trained. It is expected that all secondary teachers will consistently use the attendance and homework/website components as well as end-of-quarter grade book posting. If parents have concerns, they should contact the department chairs.

Middle School course-level placements and courses: It used to be that 4th grade MCAS scores would predict 6th grade placements but that has changed such that placement criteria includes teacher recommendations, end-of-year assessments, and course grades. The goal is to ensure that students coming from all elementary schools have the same fundamental skills so that placement can be made accurately and fairly. The MS Program of Studies is being reviewed and evaluated to ensure that programming will meet the needs of all students. (Our great new Academic Facilitator, Mr. Cristiano, who supports virtual and blended learning, is incorporating courses for students who need some remediation, those who need challenge, and those who have scheduling challenges since a wide variety of programming to meet individual needs can be implemented in this way.)

Open Houses are being held across the district: HS was 11/12 and K open houses will be held at the elementary schools during November. The MS’s event is scheduled but planning is not yet completed.

How can the district community access the excellent information provided by the Superintendent on a regular basis? After the first of the year, the Superintendent and School Committee will re-explore the Communication Plan. Everyone sees the great value in understanding what changes are happening and why, but there is little time and we have few resources to help get the message out. Suggestions are welcomed and can be forwarded to the Superintendent.

Fine and Performing Arts Coordinators have been hired: Meredith McGowan and Kim Piper respectively, and the Superintendent spoke to their excellent qualifications and contagious enthusiasm.

Melrose Grad Night - an overnight "lock-in" event to keep graduating students safe on one of the most dangerous nights in a teen's life. It will be held at the MS/HS campus on May 30, 2014. Help keep a teen safe - check out www.melrosegradnight.org!

Upcoming events:
*  iRaiders Kitchen Tour on Sunday, November 17th
* School Budgeting Forum, December 3rd  at 7:00 p.m. at Roosevelt School - if you have questions about how school budgeting works, send them to Brigid Alverson @ balverson@cityofmelrose.org
*  Melrose Education Foundation grants are due 11/29 and forms are at www.melroseeducationfoundation.org.
*  Messina Grants are in process / more info at MelroseMFA@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Reading Schools to Suspend NEASC Accreditation Process"

The Reading, MA Public School district is taking a new direction relative to its upcoming New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation process. Read more about it here:

http://homenewshere.com/daily_times_chronicle/news/reading/article_3a0cfb98-34e3-11e3-bf06-0019bb2963f4.html


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Leadership Under Fire: Lessons From the Battle of Gettysburg

Michael McGough, Associate History Professor at York College (PA), brought July 1-3, 1863 to life in this engaging retrospective of one of the most deciding engagements in the history of the United States. 

First, the critical truths about leadership: it can be defined, is time and situation sensitive, is born to some (but there are never enough natural leaders, so some need to be made), and is not a solitary pursuit.

Second, what ten most important lessons can 21st leaders take away from this battle? (....with a few examples for you Civil War buffs...)

1.  Great leaders know, understand, can articulate, and hold steadfast to an end goal; never lose sight of      your end goal. (Lincoln's goal - to protect the Union - period.)

2.  Strong leaders attract other strong leaders (human magnetism) and they have the power of influence.        2A: Prudent leaders know that there are always exceptions (Ewell and Sickles) - when an                             organization puts someone incapable in a position who fails (i.e. the Peter Principle).
3.  Successful leaders make the most of the resources and assets at hand - e.g. maximum utilization of          available resources. (3k Union soldiers held off 14K confederates because they had more                        sophisticated weapons).
4.  The best leaders demonstrate a force of character and are guided by a strong moral compass.                  (Gordon and Barlow remained friends after the war.)
5.  Talented leaders determine and prioritize actions based on data, probability, and organizational risk-      reward calculations. (Lee to Davis, Warren to Meade)
6.  Wise leaders have a grasp of the big picture as well as as an appreciation for and a commitment to          their role in it.
7.  Strong leaders can offer and accept "truth to power". (Lee should have listened to Longstreet.)
8.  Great leaders know that title and rank afford opportunities, but it takes effort and performance to            produce desired outcomes.
9.  Real leaders know what comes next and they are prepared to act accordingly. Whomever controls          the information has the power. (Lincoln obtained two critical cables from Sec. of War Stanton's              telegraph machine before he knew about them.)
10.The best leaders understand, appreciate, and use the power of their words. (The reprimand letter            from Lincoln to Meade July 14, 1863 was never sent and found years later in his desk).  Lincoln did      not use "I" or "me"in the Gettysburg address..........  


Third: how do those who value and support education live up to this challenge?

       Remember Lincoln's words - "that we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain"

       Our mission: what is best for kids because we are their hope in the present.


(Notes provided with thanks to scribe Supt. Brian Hyde of Mashpee who was kind enough to share!)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Makes Kids Go Bad and What We Can Do to Help

Northeastern Professor of Sociology/Criminology Jack Levin offered remarks in response to shooting events involving schools in recent memory, including offering facts, things we should not do or encourage, and what we actually can do.

Some facts:
*  Individuals who commit these acts are motivated by power, recognition/infamy, control, and revenge *  Factors are based in chronic frustration/depression (bullying, severe family conflict), externalization       of blame, isolation from conventional influences (no friends or delinquent friends), catastrophic loss       (rejection by a girl/boyfriend, eviction - including graduation, a humiliating episode - like in a                  hallway or cafeteria)......almost all shooters were bullied
*  Shootings cluster because of the copycat syndrome (shootings inspire other shooters)
*  Most weapons used are not assault rifles, but semi-automatic weapons often purchased legally by           parents and available in the home
*  Typical school shootings are at a HS/MS and involve a single shooter who has made revealing               remarks that are dismissed, was chronically bullied/humiliated while enduring family conflict,                 suffered catastrophic loss, and took a firearm from home.
*  Animal abuse is a key predictor - especially dogs/cats where abuse is designed to maximize suffering     (and some shooters use these methods later on people)
*  Most school bullying programs are ineffective but research isn't finding many that are - more work         needs to be done
*  In general terms, crime is down to levels not experienced since the 1950's and school rampages are         extremely rare

What not to do:
*   Have police presence in school since it tends to be ineffective and invites the community to think            that the school is unsafe (and school is the safest place all day that students can be)
*   Tolerate concealed weapons - like arming teachers - since that can encourage an angry student to            "have it out"
*   Don't encourage excessive media attention; journalists have a right and responsibility to report, but        putting a shooter on the cover of an entertainment magazine glorifies the shooter and gives him what      he wants

What can we do?:
*  LIMIT THE CULTURE OF SILENCE - it's not cool to NOT tell vs. it's not cool to tell and                 bullying (including cyberbullying) must be addressed. Need to intervene at first warning signs.
*  Employ a trusted and effective School Resource Officer who can make faculty and students feel             more secure, educate students about bullying, limit the culture of silence, all while dealing with                   everyday episodes of crime/truancy
*  Work to find the best evidence-based anti-bullying programs that are available
*  Parents have to take some responsibility since violence is deeply ingrained in our culture

Friday, November 8, 2013

Award-Winning Cost Saving Practices

In this useful breakout session that included advice from the Taunton and Hampden-Wilbraham Regional districts, some key themes included:

* Maintaining overall fiscal stability: Think carefully about cash flow management; structure for planning vs. reacting; methodically review every fiscal process and evaluate it;  develop a Business Office manual that documents each job and work to maximize the efficiency of each task; build a good partnership with the city/town; inventory all software management tools to ensure working smarter - not harder; and build a reserve (rainy-day account) for contingencies.

* Revenue generation: Athletic/student activity/parking fees; create a development office that can identify revenue opportunities and work to obtain them; explore and apply green rebates; ensure clear policies around facility rental to provide fairness to the community but maximize potential revenue.

* Planning: Develop and maintain a good understanding of capital needs (including facilities, technology, etc.); remember that education priorities must lead the discussion around implementing cost restructuring that supports them; don't be afraid to take on the difficult conversations (like school restructuring) that lead to educational improvements for all students; when deemed feasible, bring special education services in-house.

* Strategic, vision-driven, high leverage investments: student safety and well-being; teacher leadership, salaries, and professional development; in-district special ed. staffing; technology.

The evidence of implementation success? Closing the achievement gap, lowering drop-out rates while increasing graduation rates, and expanding the arts as a content area that positively affects all other content areas.

Take-away: look in every nook and cranny for ways to be efficient and effective in order to point every available resource toward improving student success!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Leadership Isn't for Cowards"

Today's General Session featured Keynote Speaker Michael Staver, author of "Leadership Isn't for Cowards"*. He provided his take on the three pitfalls of all leaders: the need to be right, the need to be in control, and the need to be all things to all people. He then provided advice in the form of "ATTACK" theory:

A-ccept your circumstances as they actually are. Don't make things better than they are and by all means don't make them worse. Have the courage to face reality.

T-ake responsibility; it works best if you have the courage to take ownership for your behavior and the consequent results.

T-ake action - DO SOMETHING.

A-cknowledge progress - create a culture of celebration. Focus on incremental progress and success.

C-ommit to lifelong learning! If you are effective you are learning; if you aren't learning you aren't effective!

K-indle your influence - means to give new life to. Means to carefully consider how to build and nurture your influence.

* From printed handout; copyright Mike Staver - The Staver Group; www.MikeStaver.com


"Putting Some STEAM into STEM"

Why is it beneficial to incorporate arts, music, and theater into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? Because it engages students and turns the "work" of imitation and memorization into the "play" of discovery and creative problem-solving - or so say presenters from the MASS Cultural Council, the Flying Cloud Institute, and Arts I Learning. They contend that the arts can enhance the study of core subjects by applying strategies that correspond to the different learning styles of varying ethnicities. Also, allowing cross-curricular projects brings appreciation for different disciplines to students who are more single focused. (For example, a chemistry class that, provided with an appropriate framework, creates glazes that art students apply to ceramics resulting in learning a real-world application to science frameworks while allowing art students to use the product and ultimately saving the art department the money they would have used to purchase the glaze.) The biggest challenge - finding the resources to train teachers about how to implement this strategy. The MASS Cultural Council has a grant program to help, and although applications have closed for this year, districts can explore this idea for a potential application next year.

"Working Smarter"

Fantastic presentation by Gail Zeman, a consulting School Business Administrator, titled "Working Smarter: Demonstrating the Links between Dollars and Diplomas." She says that districts can focus on using their resources more effectively by clearly identifying a problem that needs solving, determining the context (within the district? between districts? over time?), and then finding the right data (DESE? Dept. of Revenue?). What should be done with the information once it's gathered? First, develop tables and charts that organize the data; second, determine how the data is answering the question(s); third, decide whether you've asked the right questions/used the right data/drawn the right conclusions; fourth, get feedback from stakeholders; fifth, formulate a plan based on verified conclusions; and finally, take action.

Take-aways: What are the questions that help us solve problems (and are those questions directed at student achievement)? Do we have enough staff to dig into the data to help support answers and solutions? How do we prioritize?




Mass. Association of School Committees Conference

The annual conference has begun and a huge amount of great information sharing is happening between and among Superintendents, School Committee members, presenters, and panelists. Upcoming posts will review what is being discussed in the sessions I get to - there are many to choose from and so little time! Hope some of the information is helpful to us as a school community as we evolve in a student-centered, sustainable way.