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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

School Committee Meeting of 11/18

Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting began with Melrose Chief Information Officer Jorge Pazos commenting on “Technology Guidelines for Internet Safety.”  He spoke to what the schools are doing to keep students safe online. We then discussed a recommendation around Gifted and Talented testing submitted by Supt. Taymore, and approved eliminating testing at the elementary level to focus more efforts at the middle school level. (The elementaries will continue to improve the practice of differentiating instruction based on students’ knowledge and progress.) The featured speaker at the meeting was Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Margaret Adams, who presented on “Aligning Standards, Assessments, and Instruction.” (Find the video at the bottom of the page here: http://melroseschools.com/families/curriculum-and-instruction/.)

The Committee began discussion around the school calendar for 2015-2016, and the Supt. provided a memo explaining her recommendations. If approved at the 12/9 meeting, the school year would begin for students on September 1st and end on June 16th with no snow days, and June 23rd with five snow days.

The Committee conducted its annual self-evaluation from which we may amend/adopt goals for the coming year. A summary report will be presented on 12/9 for consideration. We reviewed recommended policy changes on the instruction of students, and all policy updates were approved with a second vote planned for 12/9.

Chairman Thorp presented recommendations for artifacts to be used when evaluating Supt. Taymore next year and those were approved.  Ms. Thorp also presented the results of the school finance survey (along with all comments – names redacted of course). The survey will be referenced as we begin to think about the budget for next year. The draft rolling agenda for next year’s meetings was presented so the community can see some thoughts on plans for next year.

We briefly discussed the MASC conference, and it was announced that Ms. Thorp was honored at a closing banquet with an All-State School Committee award which is “…intended to honor school committee members who, during the previous year have made a significant contribution to their community or their school committee either through specific action or as an inspiration and role model for their peers and constituents.” Congratulations!

As always, the full agenda and related packet documents can be found on melroseschools.com under “School Committee” under “IQM2.”

Wishing you all the happiest of Thanksgivings – our schools are incredibly thankful to have you as parents, partners, and volunteers!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Family Engagement for School Committees

It was a privilege to participate in the MASC conference panel session entitled "Moving Beyond the Bake Sale: Strategies for Effective Partnerships for Student Success", with former Lexington SC member and current member of the MA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Mary Ann Stewart (who organized and facilitated) and Plymouth SC member Kim Hunt. As Mary Ann wrote, "When schools work with and engage families, those families become powerful partners, allies, and advocates of the school and students do better." Our attendees did a fantastic job (in a mini-breakout) sharing some of their district's family engagement challenges along with a wide variety of solutions. Then our panel commented on how school committees can enhance family engagement in the context of three primary roles: budget, policy, and superintendent evaluation.

A few take-aways:
* Plymouth prints and distributes a 5.5" x 7" card detailing their mission and visions statements, core beliefs, and goals from their 2011-2015 strategic plan.
* Refocus site councils to actively assist principals in aligning School Improvement Plans with the district's strategic plan.
* Conduct focused neighborhood meetings to inform the general public on the phasing of new building construction and hear building concerns.
* Use the budget document to inform communities about where money is spent. Use color and visuals (photos as well as charts and graphs) as well as explanatory narrative.
* Use budget monies for teacher professional development around engaging parents and families in enhanced ways.
* Carefully review community engagement policies ("K" policies) from districts' policy manuals, and then compare them to what other districts are doing in that area; that approach can help communities identify areas where they want to be more purposeful.
* Other areas of the policy manual can be explored and enhanced too, like adapting principal hiring policy to encourage the use of search committees that include parents and others.
* Explore the areas of the Superintendent Evaluation Instrument that align with district goals in the area of family and community engagement. Do you want to improve cultural proficiency? Two-way communication? Community and business connections? Make sure superintendent goals are consistent with whatever you choose as a district (understanding that everything can't be done in a year) so all stakeholders are working in parallel.

You can find Mary Ann's excellent facilitator outline, the collaboration sheets from our mini-break-out sessions, and a list of resources using this Google doc:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Foundation Budget Review Commission: Danvers Hearing

This fall, the Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission was formed to satisfy recently enacted law that requires exploring whether/how the Foundation Budget formula should be changed. This formula "defines the minimum level of school spending necessary to provide an adequate education to students" and ultimately impacts the amount of state money (aka Ch. 70 money) that cities and towns receive for their schools based on things like enrollments, programs, student demographics, etc. (For details on the calculation, check out http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/.) The Commission includes legislators, BOE/DESE reps, and reps from school-related associations (teachers, school committees, superintendents, business officials, etc.). There is also a seven-member Advisory Committee.

Last night in Danvers, the Commission held the first of six hearings to "solicit testimony from members of the public." MASC Field Director Mike Gilbert estimated the audience at 150 people. The meeting began at 4:55, and by 6:30 (when I had to leave) 17 people had testified including mayors, state representatives, superintendents, school committee members, MASBO consultant, and a teacher/association president. Speakers hailed from Marblehead/Swampscott/Lynn (Rep. Ehrlich), Amesbury, Winchester/Malden/Melrose (Rep. Lewis), Newburyport, Shawsheen Valley, Nahant, Triton Regional, Danvers, Dracut, Beverly, Winchester, Wakefield, and North Reading.

Some testimony:
* Need to keep politics out of this debate and focus on students
* School budgets are increasing much faster than Ch. 70 money which is unsustainable
* Two largest drivers of increases are health insurance and special education which are beyond the control of cities and towns; next two are technology and extended learning time; last three are library media services, full-day kindergarten, and wrap-around services (before/after school academic complements)
* Ch. 70 should follow students when those students leave a district
* Taking into account property values isn't useful
* [Underfunding] is a death knoll for neighborhood schools
* Gaps are widening between haves and have-nots (haves can accommodate by sending their children to private schools when publics can't afford even the basics)
* The special ed challenges now compared with '93 are the adding the best practice of inclusion along with the increasing complexity of diagnoses - and the rate hasn't increased
* Homelessness has increased dramatically
* Are co-curricular activities (athletics) part of a free and appropriate education? (yes?)
* Need to inflation-proof the formula
* State has no requirement for curriculum materials - should they?
* Teacher salaries are much higher than when the formula was enacted
* Charter school and vocational assessments are a big issue

Next meeting is on December 15th at 4:30 on the South Shore (location TBD).
#fbrc for Twitter folks....

Monday, November 17, 2014

“Teaching Forward: Effective Technology Integration in Schools”

At the MASC conference on 11/8, technology specialists extraordinaire Jennifer Judkins of Lynnfield (@jennjudkins), Jenn Scheffer of Burlington (@jlscheffer), and Traci Jansen of Wilmington (@tbjansen) addressed how school leaders can ensure that investments in infrastructure and devices are maximized.

They displayed a great visual drawn by Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) “on the role technology should play in teaching and learning spaces” (find it here: http://www.teachingquality.org/content/blogs/bill-ferriter/technology-tool-not-learning-outcome), and then moved on to Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model (https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model) that shows a more academic approach to same. They shared that much of technology use is actually substitution for actions currently achieved by another method like research on-line vs. print library, note taking and annotation on a device rather than on paper, and digital submission of work.

They spoke to a wide variety of technology issues, challenges, and successes in schools, including embedding 21st century skills using technology; the popular and useful student help desk at the high school level; the benefits of Google Classroom (“helping teachers create and organize assignments, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with classes” / ref: classroom.google.com); and having students memorize and recite a “digital citizen rap” in order to hold them accountable for responsible use.

Some tips: develop a technology philosophy, educate stakeholders, and ask students to pilot devices before making large-scale purchases; be cautious when purchasing apps since they can't be recycled between/among students; and encourage parent understanding for home use (e.g. no devices in bedrooms).

Burlington Public Schools will hold an 11/20 session and two spring sessions entitled “1:1 in Action," featuring student-led tours and an overview of the help desk program.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Strategic Leadership: A Team Approach to Analysis, Planning and Progress"

Supt. Dr. Sal Menzo and Board Chair Roxane McKay of Wallingford, CT succeeded admirably in keeping up with the intense interest and questions during their excellent MASC conference panel presentation on Strategic Leadership. Some notes:

Analysis = using data and other indicators to make decisions.
Planning = clear, inclusive, living, informed, understood, supported
Progress = shared, on-going, celebration, community-based, communicated

What does Strategic Leadership require? A Supt. who's the instructional leader; a strategic mindset for all; and achieving, measuring, and celebrating success. (Read Carol Dweck's Mindset - Wallingford did it as a Community Read.)

Benefits include the "7 C's of Partnerships": context (purpose, relevance, and relationships); communication (diverse audiences, varied approaches, multiple formats, and consistent); collaboration (common understanding, appreciation/respect, trust); capacity (identify strengths, develop talents, share, recognize/celebrate); capital (human, political, financial, and emotional); consensus (knowledge, support, sustain); and celebrate (success, challenge in order to find opportunities for growth, plan to address challenges, and say thank you!).

Plan for strategic leadership by setting a strategic plan with measurable goals and objectives, partner/record and share progress, and express appreciation. Be transparent, share the vision, and consider how to recognize all who have supported the mission.

Communication and Media

Multiple panel sessions at the MASC conference on this topic as schools become increasingly engaged in reaching out to their communities in evolving ways. After attending “How to Blog/How to Tweet” (featuring @MAStewartMA, @TracyNovick, @Dr_Rodriguez21 and @MASC_Mike), “Social Media: How to Manage it Without it Managing You” (with Andrew Waugh, Esq. and James Toomey, Esq.) and “Media and Working with the Media” (featuring Chris Horan, President of Horan Communications), it’s clear that meeting people in cities and towns where they are is especially important – and with busy schedules it’s often on social media.

Here are some key tips:

* Schools and School Committees need to do a better job telling communities what is going on in schools and how their tax dollars are being spent.
* There needs to be clear understanding about what constitutes responsible digital citizenship for all stakeholders so that we are acting appropriately and within our roles.
* All forms of communication (blogs, tweets, Facebook, etc.) and the writing contained therein must be purposeful and clear, and posts should be often enough but not too often.
* School districts need clear policies around digital citizenship and social media.
* Most case law pre-dates new technologies and apps so much is uncharted ground, but knowing some of the key pitfalls is helpful.
* Carefully consider who is responsible for communicating what (district vs. teachers vs. School Committee, etc.).
* Always be conscious of the need for student and/or staff confidentiality - in many cases involving the media, the district can't discuss issues by virtue of the law.

Feedback welcome, readers! You can comment on this blog, e-mail me at margaretdriscoll49@gmail.com (or mdriscoll@cityofmelrose.org for School Committee related issues), or find me on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Conference Keynotes: Great Food for Thought!

Doug Stone……

…….co-author of the recently published Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When it is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and, Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood), offered some excellent advice on the ability to accept feedback and use it for professional development and healthy relationships. Dr. Stone defined the three categories of feedback as appreciation (valuing and thanking), coaching (how to improve), and evaluation (ranking), and explained the three most commonly used triggers to disqualify feedback: truth triggers (we decide it’s wrong too early), relationship triggers (who are you to tell me?), and identity triggers (too upsetting to hear). He explained that hearing negative feedback is more damaging since we often tie it to “everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life.” Some tips: redirect that internal violence toward curiosity; turn the thought process from what’s wrong with the feedback to what’s right and then just test whether it’s helpful or not.

Coach Herman Boone………

……..the real Coach Boone of Remember the Titans fame spoke to leading, coaching, and the importance of respect, trust, character, encouraging success, and a sense of humor. He closed with the moving poem “It Matters to This One” (no attribution located but it can be found here: http://www.oafccd.com/lanark/poems/matters.html):

As I walked along the seashore, a young boy greeted me. He was throwing stranded starfish back to the deep blue sea. I said “Tell my why you bother, why you waste your time this way? There’s a million stranded starfish, does it matter anyway?

And he said “It matters to this one. It deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can’t save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I’ll return it to the sea. It matters to this one, and it matters to me.”

I walked into the classroom. The teacher greeted me. She was helping Johnny study, he was struggling I could see. I said “Tell my why you bother, why you waste your time this way. Johnny’s only one of millions, does it matter anyway?”

And she said “It matters to this one, he deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can’t save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I’ll help him be what he can be. It matters to this one and it matters to me.”

Succession Planning (What, Why, and How)

In an outstanding MASC Conference presentation by Bill Lupini, Supt. of the Public Schools of Brookline, conversation centered around building capacity for the transition of staff members who hold positions of strategic importance and/or require a special set of skills. Bill posited that the public sector doesn’t do as well as the private sector in this area.

Why is it important? Staff morale improves, there is a back-up plan when staff members leave, and districts can understand their talent gaps.

How do we do it? The Supt. and Committee must be committed and involved; there must be regular talent reviews and viable successors to key positions must be identified; take a pipeline approach and hold the leadership team accountable; smaller districts need to partner (regionally and with Collaboratives); accept that we’ll lose good people but also gain good people.

Best practices: Align with district strategy, assess performance and potential; integrate succession planning with performance management, recruitment, selection, development; make a commitment (time and resources) to staff development.

Other key practices: Implement leadership development practices and develop respective activities; develop mentoring relationships; enhance the visibility of high potential staff members; reinforce a culture of leadership development.


“Succession Planning for School Leadership” by Kathy Lacey: http://www.yooyahcloud.com/PA/03UHB/Attachment_4275_SANDSHOE_Kathy_Lacey.pdf

“Succession Planning 101” by Emily Douglas:

“Integrating Leadership Development and Succession Planning Best Practices” by Kevin S. Groves:

“Effective Succession Planning in the Public Sector” by Brian Wilkerson:

Friday, November 14, 2014

NEASC Accreditation - Is there still enough value to warrant the cost?

MASC Conference programmers offered a panel session featuring President/CEO of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' (NEASC) Cameron Staples along with Commission on Public Secondary Schools' (CPSS) Director Janet Allison and Deputy Director George Edwards who spoke to the changes being undertaken to revise the accreditation process for their member schools. NEASC claims to accredit over 2000 schools and colleges and to be the oldest regional accrediting association.

They explained how, in the past, schools faced fewer mandates and regulations, and that meeting accreditation standards was a way for communities to reflect on their educational services and show improvement and accountability to students, communities, and colleges. In the current environment of significant regulation, NEASC is engaging in a comprehensive review through a peer review process. Services are changing, like providing a showcase of a model school program, development of on-line/web-based tool, and reduction of visiting teams to reduce costs.

Some questions from the audience: 1. With all state and federal mandates and assessment tools as well as teachers/administrators with quality evaluative skills, why do we need another (outside) accountability organization?; 2. Average member annual expense is $3800+/yr. dues and $20,000+ for the study – is this money well spent by districts (especially those that are small in size)?; 3. Colleges wouldn’t reject a student because a high school hadn’t been through the accreditation process and the diploma would be worth no less, so what is the real benefit to students?

Session handout of NEASC standards is here: https://cpss.neasc.org/downloads/2011_Standards/2011_Standards.pdf)

Take-aways for Melrose: what does NEASC mean for our students and our district, and are the dues and/or the self-study worthwhile investments of funds and teacher time out of the classroom? What can we learn from our colleagues in neighboring districts