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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Legislators, Hoover Students, Demographic Study, Tech Plan, Enrollments, and Start Times….

Last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting began with a round table discussion with State Representative Paul Brodeur and State Senator Jason Lewis. We touched on the following in our 45-minute session:

·               Foundation Budget Review Commission has published its final report (which is on the 11/24 Committee agenda). The report is designed to begin a discussion with the governor, although there are no guarantees that the recommendations will be implemented. The special education piece focused on out-of-district expenses and Supt. Taymore noted that those placements for Melrose are declining since we are working to keep more students in-district.
·               9C cuts (mid-year budget cuts sometimes implemented by the governor if revenues are lower than expected) are not being discussed at this time.
·               Charter schools (keeping the cap vs. lifting the cap) – if the legislature were to act, the Senate would take it up first, but that is unlikely and it will likely go to voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The mayor noted that charter assessments are the only part of the budget that have no checks and balances (since elected reps don’t vote on it).  The money disproportionately goes to districts not at their levy limit; he contended that cities/towns should pay for themselves before asking others for money, and there should be rewards for quality fiscal management. He also asked whether there was discussion around unionizing charter teachers so they could participate in the pension system; there is not. There was also discussion about charging districts quarterly for charter student payments instead of a one-time payment; that would allow the district to save by not paying for an entire year if a student were to return to the district mid-year.
·               Kindergarten grant – the governor will likely put $0 in his budget but it is likely that the legislature will put some money back in. Supt. Taymore commented that our kindergartens are NAEYC certified which requires paraprofessionals in the classrooms but other cities’ K’s aren’t, so the cuts hit us particularly hard.
·               The Supt. is concerned about student data privacy, which will be discussed in the legislature.
·               The public records bill was reported favorably from Committee, which has been sensitive to costs by municipalities. The House will take up the bill next week.

In our regular meeting, the Hoover School was our School Committee Spotlight guest, and three students spoke to the benefits of their Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) system 7 Habits and how it has helped students and the school culture.

Supt. Taymore reported that evacuation drills have gone very well, Melrose Rotary is sponsoring a city-wide 5th grade spelling bee in the spring, the Human Rights Commission will sponsor an essay-writing contest to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a contract has been signed for the Learning Commons project (the renovated library and technology space at MHS) with construction beginning after Thanksgiving.

The city’s demographic study was presented, showing that average home prices in 2014 were $475.5K and demand far exceeds supply. The number of students in the schools is predicted to grow by about 40 students/year between now and 2026 (from 3726 students to 4171), and will be concentrated in K-8. There are currently 450 students who attend private/parochial schools from K-12, with 17 students home-schooled, 280 students in charter schools, 40 students in out-of-district special education placements, and 23 students choiced-in/tuitioned-in/non-residents. 30% of Melrose households contain individuals under age 18. The percentage of non-white and Hispanic residents between 2000 and 2010 doubled from 6% to 12%.

We are in the process of reviewing all financial policies of the schools, and those recommended for change will be brought forward for a first vote on 11/24.

In the Technology Plan update, Supt. Taymore noted that there is much “back-end” work needed to get all technology up and running effectively (infrastructure, etc.). This work is expected to be complete by 2/1/16. The schools do not have a Director of Instructional Technology, which may handicap our ability to implement the education goals of the technology as well as possible.

Enrollments and class sizes were reported. 2016 race/ethnicity enrollments: 82% white, 6% African American, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 0% Native American, 4% Multi-Race, and 4% Hispanic. Other student statistics: 18 homeless, 23 school choice, 1 tuitioned-in special education, 40 out-of-district special education, and 1 foreign exchange student(s). Over 18% of students are considered low income (an increase of 32 students from last year), 33 students are from immigrant families, and 6 students are from military families. 116 students are considered Limited English Proficient (LEP) – the same as last year but greatly increased from the year before. Two elementary schools have over 400 students with only one principal. Some high school classes have over 30 students, but there are many more approaching that number (in the 26-29 student range). The Committee could set a maximum student limit, but that would have financial consequences. Some high school classes have ten or fewer students, but failing to run them could have negative consequences for students. At the elementary level, a 5th grade will need to be added at Winthrop. At Lincoln and Roosevelt, we may need to take the music rooms for classrooms. Discussion was held around re-opening the Beebe and employing modular classrooms. Supt. Taymore said that another way to explore this concept is to look at educational configurations; for example, Billerica is building a high school for grades 8-12, with a grade 5-7 middle school. Supt. Taymore recommended that we consider revitalizing the School Building Committee in order to consider how to address increases in school population. Demographics must be considered in concert with educational intentions (like Competency-Based Learning if we go in that direction). Athletics participation ran between 297-383 students per season in 2015 (31-40% of the student body).

It is a given that later start times favor student health and wellness but the Committee is cognizant of the challenge posed by shifting the time. We voted to recommend that the Start Time Task Force focus next step exploration on the 35 minute time shift, and particularly consider impacts to athletics, METCO, contractual obligations, etc.

The Committee continues to consider what data we need to make decisions and in what format. Ms. Thorp presented a tentative rolling agenda for calendar 2016 for planning and presentation purposes.

Much more detail can be found in the meeting materials (packet documents) that can be found, as always, on the melroseschools.com web site, under School Committee, under Meetings: IQM2 Portal.

Next meeting is Tuesday, 11/24 at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber at City Hall.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crazy 8’s, Override Impact, Policy Implementation, Parent University, and More…

This week’s City Wide PTO covered some pretty wide-ranging topics!

·               Instructional Coach Paula Jones talked about a free program for elementary students called Crazy 8’s Club that she’s supporting. According to the web site (bedtimemath.org) it is “…not a serious, competitive-worksheet club, but a club where you explore numbers by building things, making music, and making a mess.” Volunteers run the clubs, setting the day/time (before or after school). Prep is user-friendly with lesson planning taking about 30 minutes for a total commitment of about 1.5 hours/week. The cost for the program is free to students, with a $50 materials fee that is covered in principals’ budgets. The Horace Mann club is up and running, with Roosevelt starting this week. Volunteers are needed at Lincoln and Hoover. If you are interested, please talk to your principal!
·               Given that voters did not approve the override, there are negative consequences to the schools. Here are a few we talked about:
o   There will remain 35+ students in many art/music classes at the elementary level.
o   Some high school classes will continue to contain 30+ students (especially challenging in art classes where materials take up significant space).
o   A great deal of technology has been purchased to support teaching and learning but there is no administrator (Director of Instructional Technology) to help teachers use it in the classroom, support its use in library media centers, or manage the networking/systems.
o   The average life of textbooks and materials is five-six years but we don’t have a continuous replacement cycle, so we’ll have to find that money in the budget or extend the life of materials.
o   The School Committee builds a budget each year for which $750K is not yet guaranteed to the City, and the Aldermen approve that practice and the budget. We know by October whether the money will come (and in past years, it has come). Elected officials know that not including that amount would decimate school staffing (since 86% of the budget is salaries), so the practice continues although it’s agreed that it is not fiscally sound. The override would have allowed the budget to guarantee the $750K when the budget is passed, and then when funding comes in October, it could be used for other city services, like maintenance to municipals buildings, etc. (Now, those projects are left undone and other city services receive less support.)
·               A question was posed around how policies are determined and communicated, in general, and as related to the lice policy. Discussion centered around policy being a function of the School Committee and the fact that there are three ways that policy gets determined: changes to state/federal law; challenges brought to the attention of the Committee by the Superintendent or the community where policy can guide the Supt., or as part of a regular policy review. The Superintendent develops administrative guidelines and/or procedures either as a response to policy or as a best practice. (All policies and administrative guidelines are on the school web site.) In the case of the lice protocols, the applicable policy relates to wellness (ADF) as well as the Student Handbook. (Since the Committee approves the Handbook, it’s considered policy.) This year a page of changes to the Handbook was not developed and presented at the time of the Handbook’s approval and the Committee agreed that it should be presented next year. City Wide PTO members also recommended bolding changes in the Handbook for easy designation by parents. It’s the responsibility of the parent to read the Handbook and understand it prior to signing the form indicating such, but the district should ensure that changes are easy to find. Regarding lice, the protocols are based on new regulations from the state (“no-nit policy”) and are now consistent among elementary schools, with notification going to parents if three cases are detected in the same grade at a school.
·               Parent University is November 14th from 8-12 at MVMMS and features a wide variety of sessions, free to parents and community members. More info at http://melroseedfoundation.org/2015/10/12/save-the-date-melrose-parent-university-sat-nov-14-2015/. (….submitting a shameless plug for the Inside MHS session, where I get to sit on the panel and hear what you think about MHS and you get to be a student-for-an-hour while learning more about MHS offerings. )
·               An MHS career fair is in the organization stage. It will be designed to help primarily 10th and 11th graders learn about careers so they will have more information as they begin the college search process. Bridge Director Jenn McAlister will get involved to help find residents in different fields and request their participation in this event. For more information, contact Jenn at the Bridge office in Melrose Public Schools.
·               The iRaiders Annual Kitchen Tour is scheduled for this Sunday, November 15th. To learn more about the iRaiders, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/IRaiders-124984927631595/timeline. More info on the Kitchen Tour here: http://www.cityofmelrose.org/2015/11/12/check-out-the-iraiders-kitchen-tour-on-november-15/.
·               Mark your calendars for November 20th-22nd and plan to catch our talented middle schoolers perform Elf Jr.! More info here: https://melrosedrama.wordpress.com/shows/mvmms-fall-musical-15/
·               Thinking spring already? Graduation is planned for June 3rd, 2016.
·               Next meeting is December 8th at 8:45 a.m.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secrets of School Governance from MASC (#MASCconf2015)

Such a privilege to sit on the District Governance Program panel with Tari Thomas, Superintendent of Ralph Mahar Regional and presenter Dorothy Presser, MASC Field Director. 

From the web site: “The District Governance Program [DGP] is designed to focus on continuous improvement and to help school committees and superintendents develop new strategies for teamwork and collaboration that will enhance student achievement. [It] helps build a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the school committee and those of the superintendent.” 

How is it structured? Like a school house…
·      Building the Foundation (Operating Protocols)
·      Raising the Frame (Vision and Goals)
·      Installing the Infrastructure (Monitoring Progress)
·      Setting the Walls (Effective Meetings)
·      Laying the Roof (Sustaining Progress)

How does it work? Districts contact Dorothy and indicate the desire for assistance in improving their governance. Dorothy meets with the Superintendent and Board Chair to determine the district’s current governance status, evaluate its unique needs, and create a plan for tackling challenges. (Tari found this process particularly insightful and useful.)

In the interest of student achievement, districts should seek:
·      a vision of high expectations
·      accountability
·      strong relationships
·      data to monitor progress
·      to lead as a united team

Practices that support success:
·      varied and purposeful meetings (try for 1/quarter that is not a business meeting)
·      strong self-governance
·      having a board professional development plan
·      strong Superintendent/Committee collaboration (MASC has info on this)

High-functioning governance teams (administration and Committee):
·      abide by their unique roles
·      agree on how to operate and communicate
·      devote time to the work
·      plan and execute efficient business meetings
·      have frequent, informal conversations
·      share trust and mutual respect

These are things we talked about as being useful in Melrose (and apologies to Tari as I don’t have specifics for hers – am sure she’d be happy to talk with you about them):
·      Adopting norms and protocols that reflect the behaviors of the Committee. (We used the DGP’s headings: “Who we represent; How we conduct business; How we’ll treat each other; How we’ll communicate; How we’ll improve; Limits of power; What happens when things go wrong.” You can find them here: http://tinyurl.com/q6c8zpq. We put a copy into a clear notebook sleeve and have one at every Committee member’s desk for each meeting.
·      Determining and employing overarching goals, SMART goals, and action items http://tinyurl.com/neyxbmz).
·      Use of a rolling agenda (pp 241-244 here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk.)
·      Use of a consent agenda for common and regular reports (like monthly budget summaries, field trips, warrants, meeting minutes, personnel reports, cafeteria reports, maintenance reports, etc.) that generally don’t generate much dialogue among Committee members since they are posted in packets the Friday prior to Tuesday meetings and members can contact the Supt. with questions in advance. In the introduction to the Consent Agenda in a meeting, the Chair always asks if anyone wants to remove and item from the Consent Agenda, and if so, the Chair determines where on the agenda that item will be discussed and voted.
·      Using By-Laws and policy (“B” section of most policy manuals) to codify intentions around how meetings will be run (http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/district-policy-manual/).
·      Employing data dashboards (here: http://melroseschools.com/administration/district-dashboard/ and is a work in progress!).
·      Performing a yearly self-evaluation that can lead to formation of goals for the following year. (Our 2015 process was approved last night and can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk on pp. 162-170.) Virtually the same process was used last year at this time, so you can see how members responded on the evaluation and the ensuing report that led to goal formation early this year.)

Using a continuous cycle of goal setting, performance monitoring, and self-reflection can support Committee accomplishment of the work that improves student learning in a thoughtful, collaborative way.

Cultural Proficiency (#MASCconf2015)

In this standing-room only session, featured presenter Ron Walker, Executive Director, Coalition of Essential Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) addressed the challenges around understanding and embedding cultural proficiency in our schools.

·      How are school policies supportive of cultural proficiency?
o   Is there full inclusion and awareness? We think and say there is, but there is not.
o   Do you have a cultural proficiency policy? Every policy that comes to the table needs the lens of cultural proficiency.
·      How are we as a state and country re-examining discipline?
o   The right approach is restorative justice including the culturally responsible approach of a Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) protocol.
·      Panel member Kharis McLaughlin, Director of Diversity in the Cambridge Public Schools, spoke to the language “all children.” The state says we can’t disaggregate data down to individual students but she disagrees. Even if there is one student of color, what if that student isn’t doing well? It’s not racist to look at each child because the goal should be to lead students to rigor and high standards. We shouldn’t use the term “sub-group.” If a student is doing well, we can’t replicate that to help others. We can’t support underperformance or replicate success without data analysis.
·      We can measure ourselves using the “Cultural Proficiency Continuum,” also known as the “Cultural Competence Continuum.” It looks like this:
o   Cultural destruction: destroys groups due to their culture (e.g. Holocaust, slavery, Trail of Tears).
o   Cultural incapacity: doesn’t destroy, but doesn’t improve.
o   Cultural blindness: fails to recognize, disregards, or ignores cultures.
o   Cultural pre-competence: good intentions and emerging, but need to learn more.
o   Cultural competence: appreciate all children and all communities.
o   Cultural proficiency: no one really meets this standard since it involves policy, practice, attitudes, and behaviors. We all aspire to this.
·      Do a cultural scan. Be conscious. Notice and respect people at all times in all places (e.g. at Market Basket, the man packing grocery bags was from a different culture. Asking “how do you pronounce your name?” shows respect.) Ask yourself “Where am I and where do I want to be?”
·      Is poverty an overlay question? The data of poor white boys is not that different from poor black and Latino boys.
·      The parent piece is not about bake sales. Parents are allies. They inform policy and act as liaisons.
·      Reflect on what all students should be able to know, understand, and do.
·      Nothing supersedes teacher quality and a teacher’s belief that all students can learn. High expectations for all is the key.


Creative, Entrepreneurial, and Global: 21st Century Education (#MASCconf2015)

Educator and prolific author Yong Zhao delivered Friday’s keynote address. His work focuses on the implications of globalization and technology on education. His slides can be found at http://zhaolearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WorldClass.pdf, and here are some highlights from his speech:

·      School boards are uniquely American but have lost power over the past 20 years.
·      It’s not how hard you work, but what you are working on. In the outcome of education, what matters?
·      Over time, we’ve been building “statues” that don’t accomplish things (ref: Easter Island).
·      “Catching up or leading the way?” Americans are seduced by the wrong measure as enticed by Singapore, China, and Korea (2008). If NCLB had been fully funded, there would have been more damage. All assumptions were based on the predication that American schools were bad and couldn’t compete, but there was no evidence to say American education was bad.
·      American education is not getting worse. It’s always been bad as measured by test scores. (If our education is so bad, why are we still here?)
·      So why is America still here?
·      The data would say that top scoring countries are the “chop stick” countries. “Spoon and fork” countries don’t do so well J
·      Asian countries have a lack of confidence. They score well but don’t want to read – they don’t have the interest.
·      Counting what Counts is Zhao’s new book, available in two weeks. A lot of numbers lie about education. The side effects of education are like those on a medication bottle – may cure _______ but can cause ______. What do you give up to get something?
·      What used to matter may not matter in the future. We think too linearly – tomorrow may be the past.
·      College and career readiness is considered “out of the basement readiness” yet college grads continue to have problems finding jobs in their field (employment or underemployment). They become boomerang children (i.e. coming home to live in your basement).
·      “Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon?” The Chinese were good at homogenous education, which was necessary because past jobs included assembly line jobs. They needed to squash creativity. We have employee-oriented education. Schools are employers – they measure kids. Kindergartners aren’t ready so we’ll fix it; we’re always looking at the deficits, looking to homogenize. Kindergarten readiness standards are like job interviews. We impose on children the content and skills we think will be valuable in the future because it was valuable in the past.
·      That’s not true anymore – robotics does those jobs now. We are in the second machine age. More jobs are being replaced (e.g. Turbotax, divorces are done on line, Google car with no driver). As such, we need fewer tax accountants, lawyers, human drivers, DMV, car insurance agents, traffic lights, etc.) Look at The World is Flat by Friedman.
·      The US spends more $ than most countries and MA more $ than most states. That money is wasted if other countries provide the same education for less $.
·      Two questions:
o   Are we prepping kids to do things machines can’t do?
o   Are we prepping kids to do things that can’t be outsourced?
·      Multiple intelligences – everyone is good at something/no one is good at everything = POTENTIAL. Nurture – can you trigger potential? You may be a genius, but you need teaching, coaching, mentoring. As a school are you allowing 10,000 hours on what helps kids? It doesn’t make sense to try to improve things we’ll never be good at.
·      Not everyone wants the same things. What is one’s motivator / object of desire (e.g. power? influence)? People are driven by different things and have different passions. Not all were valuable before.
·      Today there is hope. There is the creation of new jobs. (Rudolph’s nose was red and he was put in special education J. One Christmas Eve, Santa needed GPS and having non-blackness was a benefit.) Today, how will car interiors be re-invented for driverless cars - should they contain hot tubs – again J?
·      This is the age of abundance and leisure (psychological, intellectual, and emotional products). Most consumables are wants, not desires. Values have changed. Creating choice is important since a machine can manufacture a product (e.g. shampoo bottles are art, etc.)
·      The foggy Christmas Eve has arrived. Traditionally useless people are now useful.
·      New education jobs must enhance individual talents. Students now become disengaged – it’s the new paradigm. We must prepare students to create jobs, not take jobs, and support every strength. We need an entrepreneurial mindset and use our talents to serve others.
·      What is student autonomy? Personalized education. We need to hold standards accountable for mattering. Global technology is needed.
·      We must be “world class learners.”
·      We face the cliff of the middle class. Now entrepreneurs are in a global market. 2400 on the SAT is not useful – that’s existing structure.
·      Help students to become great in their own way – then they will not live in your basement.


Monday, November 9, 2015

The Boy Crisis: In the Classroom and on the Streets (#MASCconf2015)

William Pollack, Director of the Center for Young Men and Boys at McLean Hospital and Assoc. Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School spoke to “Addressing and Shifting our Academic Climates: Creating Boy-Friendly / Girl-Affirmative Schools.”

 One of the best child practitioners of child philosophy was Mr. (Fred) Rogers. He spoke in the cadence and speed of his audience – children trying to learn. He showed love and understanding simultaneously and both boys and girls related simultaneously.

Data shows this: boys struggle with not being able to emote. Boys trail in academics. (At ages 9, 13, 17 they trail girls in reading scores and this has been true since 1971). Girls have caught up in STEM areas. Girls perform 20 points better on writing tests. Boys are two times more likely to be diagnosed as learning disabled. Boys are much more likely disciplined and are diagnosed up to five times as often for ADHD and ADD than girls. Boys need 5-6 recesses per day and Dr. Pollack believes that schools over-diagnose ADHD up to 50% of the time. Boys are less likely to graduate from high school and college. 150,000 more masters’ degrees were conferred on females vs. males in 2013 (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_301.10.asp). Young men are falling behind. Freshman college stats would reveal a 60/40 demographic split favoring girls if just academic acceptance standards were used. Boys are expected to fail at school/life and have lower self-esteem as learners. Boys expect adults to distrust and fear them. 80%+ of homicides involve males (engaging in and victims). Society believes that young males have to be “controlled” because otherwise they’ll hurt people. Boys/young males are much more likely to complete a suicide and are more likely to die because they really want to be dead compared with girls. The US DOE has said we have too many suspensions/expulsions and too many are young males – especially males of color.

Boys of color are even less likely to do well in school or succeed in life and are more likely to commit a crime. Young black males are incarcerated at an alarming rate. On average, a 12th grade black male with one parent who was a college graduate still fell below basic achievement while 12th grade black women were more successful.

How we socialize boys is the problem. In the US, we push boys away from their caring parents and mentors by telling them early myths like “be a big boy, be a little man.” “Cut mom’s apron strings.” “You’re a momma’s boy.” Boys loved by mothers and fathers live seven years longer than others and are more successful. No biological study indicates boys are more aggressive even though we apply other myths like “boys will be boys.” Boys are only aggressive when they are hurt in their home or are trained to be hurtful to others. “That not what boys should do” and “boys are toxic” are other myths. Media provides messages that boys are aggressive and the girls’ job is to socialize them. When we treat boys this way, they get depressed and suffer.

Boys are disconnected from their feelings and curricula is not set up for boys. Boys read/write 12-15 months later than girls. Don’t keep them back – they just need more recess. Follow what boys need in reading - otherwise they become disconnected and don’t learn as well.

Robert Pianta, Dean of the School of Education at UVA, conducted a study asking, “What do teachers think of kids?” Kindergarten teachers said it’s hard to work with boys. It’s been shown that the relationship between teacher and student in kindergarten is the best predictor of academic outcomes. Boys in general have a negative memory (their teachers hated them). Social-emotional construct being the heart of academic learning is no longer true – they are equally connected. What makes adolescents survive?  Families and schools exhibiting warmth, love, and understanding. Boys need a mentor in school who had that, and when they did, they succeeded more often in school and life and were respectful to women.

Boys look like they want independence, but they really want people around. (“Don’t just do something, stand there.”) Just be there. Emphasize the importance of listening, especially when boys are the angriest. Anger = hurt with boys. Provide opportunities for families to do social emotional learning. Create trust so they come to an adult before an issue occurs. Educators and their supporters need to fight for dollars. Each student must have a special caring relationship with at least one adult. School leaders must identify who’s having problems, who’s doing well, and students for whom they have no idea whether he/she is having a problem or is doing well – it’s those students who most need connection. For more information: www.williampollack.com.

Ron Walker, Executive Director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) spoke to the unique challenges of boys of color.

All the people with whom boys can have a relationship in schools are important (cafeteria workers, crossing guards, etc.). According to a Boston Globe article, 23-year-old Akim Callendar (http://tinyurl.com/qck58b7) stated that police officers see young black men as as “a menace to society.” This philosophy is not an unusual presumption. COSBOC is holding a regional event to share promising practices around this issue. Practitioners want to SEE practice. As a teacher, Walker lost two black boys, the first, a 7th grade student killed by gang violence. The second was a young man accused of murder and incarcerated for life who ultimately found prison GED programs “liberating.” Walker’s mission: change the narrative and surround boys of color with a positive narrative. Let them be seen as an asset. This work needs concentrated effort and focus. When we address that, there will be change throughout districts. Cultural competence is merely the base. Boys of color have been marginalized. This program helps schools and educators help students negotiate what it means to be a man. For more information: http://www.coseboc.org/.

NEASC Reforms and Implementation Timeline (#MASCconf2015)

Presented by NEASC Director George Edwards, with panelists Jake McCandless (Pittsfield Supt.), Jon Sills (Bedford Supt.), and Joel Stembridge (Newton South Principal), the session offered “progress being made developing [NEASC] reforms and the timeline for their implementation.”

Resulting from significant outreach by districts around the state, it was clear NEASC had become too accountability based. Districts were focused on compliance vs. being self-reflective so real change wasn’t necessarily taking place based on the process. It also became clear that school leaders could have power even in the top-down, mandate-driven “milieu”. Real change happened because Supts. and school leaders were invited to cooperate to build new processes that would be helpful to schools. In one example, Bedford, NEASC was asked to:
o   Focus on and support school improvement goals as identified by school/district and aligned with the standards.
o   Be less prescriptive and more flexible.
o   Focus on a schools’ capacity for continuous self-reflect and growth (school councils, SIP’s, what do schools want to work on?). Where in the standards does that fit? Broad vs. prescriptive way to get there. Develop a standard on engagement.
o   Emphasize formative feedback and continual planning and improvement – visit will be more about how to move forward on goals.
o   Develop manageable recommendations based on the standards.
o   Provide clear guidelines for achieving those recommendations.

Joel Stembridge noted that Newton South has suspended participation until the new work is out but sees “good things” happening at NEASC like:
o   It’s now more of a counterpart to simplistic test-driven oversight (include nurses, SEL, etc.) – using a whole school approach.
o   NESC provides PD for teachers with tie-ins for curriculum + assessment.
o   Every good institution is self-reflective (looking at external standards).
Concerns remain:
o   Accreditation isn’t a “one size fits all” process; there is now movement but there hasn’t been movement on rubrics. They’ve asked NEASC about the purpose of rubrics (they are one way but not the only way – research shows this) / instead maybe show how faculty works together to improve curriculum and not be overly prescriptive).
o   The process took up so much time. Hard to engage in other critically important initiatives.
o   At the end of self-study, they had a big report but lots of recommendations (he rec’d 87 recommendations). WAY too hard. Can NEASC identify big picture recommendations and de-emphasize others (?).

NEASC came to the conclusion that their process was too prescriptive, took too much time, required schools to stop other work, caused high schools to be out of sync with other district schools, was redundant with other mandated processes, was too expensive, and was a “one size fits all” proposition.

Efforts to date by NEASC to address concerns included meetings with school leadership in all NE states (2013); summer chairs workshop (2014/2015), committee to revise standards (2014), committee to revise rating guides (2014), review and revise pre-self-study and self-study process (ongoing), review and revise accreditation visit protocol (ongoing), review/revise standards (late fall/early winter.

The standards review will focus on being less prescriptive/more flexible, including focus on school improvement, greater emphasis on goals vs. specific strategies, using indicators as guidance, and encompassing a “growth mindset.” Initial revisions to standards include making targeted revisions (summer, 2014). Comprehensive revision will begin this late fall/early winter. (Standards went beyond identifying goals, but also said how to meet the goals, so looked especially at standard 5 revisions (indicators 2 + 3). How would schools address equity and achievement gap? Looked at indicator 3 – student relationship with a faculty member (advisory indicator). They are working to give flexibility to develop local initiative and provide changes in language for all rating guides to adopt more formative language (e.g. “not yet meeting the standard vs. “fails” and also change what qualifies as “not meeting the standard”). Completion of revisions expected by the end of summer 2016 (and will be a natural extension of the self-study redesign). There will be time for schools to respond to changes.

Common core and state crosswalks have been developed. An on-line accreditation portal is being implemented (for uploading self-study and evidence like links to curriculum docs, the visiting committee report, and the follow-up process) and will be phased in from fall, 2015-2017.

Accreditation redesign protocols look like:
o   Shortened self-study (1 year).
o   Differentiated use of staff. In the past every staff member needed to work on self-study. Now: schools decide how to use staff (i.e. ok to use just some staff and will vary among schools).
o   Use of existing artifacts as evidence: measures to determine student achievement (like DDMS’s) that state is already requiring + comprehensive program reviews for SPED.
o   Focus on school/district priorities: some schools for whom some standards that are non-issue – some schools are brand new – so why do a facilities study? Maybe do more on areas that need focus that they’ve already identified.
o   Smaller visiting committees. Before = 16 committee members and larger. In a small school w/20 teachers, sent team of 9 as pilot. Looking for the right number since it has big impact on cost to schools.
o   Fewer recommendations focused on standards using indicators as guidance.

Other notes:
o   Pilot schools include Reading and Burlington.
o   NEASC is currently working with a number of districts that are interested in a district-wide approach to accreditation (accrediting each of its schools K-12). It could look different in districts depending on the size of the district/# of schools.
o   Cost: annual membership dues are $2600-5K with average cost for 10 year visits about $15-25K. Having the portal and smaller visiting committees will reduce these costs.
o   Exploring how to helpful districts escrow money for visit so yearly expenses are similar and planned in advance for budgeting.
o   Training is enormous part of what needs to be done (especially on-going training for chairs). Challenge = all are volunteers so they have to leave families/work; looking at making training more convenient by using on-line platforms. Focus is consistency, outreach to Supts.
o   Some districts have piloted DESE “Planning for Success” program, a focused /strategic long-range process with 1 year action planning. Benefit to process is it’s not exhaustive – gets past planning to actual work quickly. Efficient. Creates momentum from data. How is that alignment act as an integrated part of the NEASC site visit?