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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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

CBL, Common Core, and Other Notes from City Wide PTO

On December 8th, the group started with a thoughtful discussion around the competency based learning (CBL) model that Supt. Taymore is proposing. Her remarks, as summarized, are as follows:

·      CBL is a standards-based system. It’s a model of instruction, not curriculum or content.
·      Students proceed as they master standards. There is greater rigor and the model includes more project-based learning.
·      It requires teachers to think differently about pacing (how fast they move through each topic area) and sequencing (the order in which they move through topic areas).
·      We now use a factory-based model that no longer works in an information-based society so we have to teach differently.
·      Staff has already implemented Understanding by Design, a way of planning that identifies what students should get out of a content unit, then working backwards to achieve the meeting of standards to get there.
·      What would change? Students don’t pass with a “D,” rather, they must master standards to get to the next step.
·      There are questions, like how to include more project-based learning.
·      What learning experiences outside of school “count” (e.g. does a student who works at Dana Farber get credit for a Medical course?)? At MHS, soon high school students will be manning a tech help desk and by doing so will meet standards in science/tech/engineering and will get credit for it.
·      Superintendents around the state are talking about CBL; the issue in Massachusetts is that the Dept. of Elem. and Sec. Education doesn’t yet have a plan to support it.
·      Question to the Supt. – does this only support students who are struggling and students who need challenge (i.e. “fringe” students)? No – it is truly for all students. Also, students must not be labeled, they must be met where they are and be able to proceed at the right pace for them. It also addresses the contention by some Melrose families that “my regular child will be swallowed up at the high school level.”
·      Question to the Supt. – what about teachers? Staff is always concerned about failing, because they want to support students well. They need help to improve teaching and learning so they build confidence. The Supt. is working to “build capacity” in staff, meaning increasing training, coaching, and mentoring. The high school is moving well in this direction, the middle school has pockets that are developing quickly, and elementary is the largest challenge because classrooms are largely singular (although Hoover has some cross-class grouping, Roosevelt is doing some vertical grouping, and four of five buildings have science vs. social studies specialists).

The discussion morphed into a review of the Common Core and its status. Supt. Taymore spoke to the new federal education act, ESSA called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” (More info here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/11/esea_reauthorization_the_every.html.) In sum, it takes the federal government out of the school accountability business, making states responsible for developing tests (testing is still required but other types of assessment can also be used) and removes the feds from teacher evaluation. (Note: as of this writing, it’s on the President’s desk and expected to be signed post haste.) Those opposed to Common Core standards should find this Act supportive of their efforts and responsive to their interests in more localized control (although the states won’t do away with it, they’ll just call it something else).

Efforts continue to address cultural awareness and proficiency.

·      At the high school/middle school levels, Urban Improv, although not perfect, started a difficult conversation that is useful in developing understanding. Teachers did follow-up work in their classrooms. The challenge is that developmentally and from a learning standpoint, students need more work in understanding how to listen, how to have perspective, and how to craft thoughtful speech based on that work.
·      Prior to Urban Improv, the ADL had trained staff on microaggressions.
·      Last week, Supt. Taymore and METCO Director Doreen Ward brought six teachers to the METCO conference, which was excellent and they’ll share what they learned with staff.
·      The middle school is starting a Social Justice Club and the high school is starting a Do the Right Thing club. 
·      Parents have concerns around the high school mascot. After her arrival in the district, the Supt. asked cheerleaders to remove the feathers from their hair because it was disrespectful. Students are interested in talking about the mascot.
·      Supt. Taymore is working with Melrose Human Rights Commission Chairman Shawn MacMaster about city-wide efforts to address this issue since it’s really a city challenge, not just in the schools. Students want to have conversations about race, and adults need to have it too.

Other notes:

·      Collective bargaining agreements are being signed with secretaries, paraprofessionals, and department chairs. Interest-based bargaining will be the negotiating model used in partnership with teachers as bargaining begins in the spring.
·      The Melrose Master Plan is another effort in process in the city. Every municipality in the state is required to engage in this effort every ten years. There will be a public forum in February for the community-at-large.
·      The Permanent School Building Committee is reconvening to discuss capacity issues, needed upgrades to middle school’s Performing Arts Center, and other topics.
·      Work on the Learning Commons at the high school has begun earlier than anticipated, with the heavy demolition occurring from 3:00 into the evenings (in order to limit disruption to student learning).
*    A local donation form is being developed to help streamline requests from PTO’s to local businesses and respect their ability to support elementary organizations.

      Next meeting is January 12th. Community Reading Day is March 3rd. Trivia Bee is March 19th.