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.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Competency Based Education: The May 23rd School Committee Forum

On May 23rd, the School Committee held a forum on Competency Based Education, an initiative undertaken by the Melrose Public Schools in partnership with Great Schools Partnership with funding support from the Barr Foundation. The panel included Dr. Margaret Adams, Asst. Supt for Teaching and Learning as well as two Melrose teachers and a representative from the Barr Foundation. (Warning: long blog post with lots of detail ahead!)

Presentation Highlights:
Competency Based Education (CBE) must start with clear expectations, five-eight things you can do regardless of the content area; skills that employers want students to have when they enter the workforce. Next layer is sub-skills. Layer below is learning objectives. Start with the end in mind and then plan down to the daily lesson.

Use assessments against the standard, not against other students (both formative and summative). Separate academic achievement from habits of work; important to evaluate both of them. Students should have “voice and choice” about how they’re achieving and demonstrating their skills. Habits of Learning (21st century skills) – patterns that will help them succeed as students and into the real world.

Process: visited high school, middle school, and elementary schools. Drafted understanding around what they want students to be able to do. Developed common framework for content areas.

Example in High School Art: what can we do that will benefit students? Ran half-year Intro to Art but wasn’t enough content to be able to progress right to Art I. Teachers developed a packet requirement (compilation of projects, writing piece, reflection on the work submitted). Six students tried and four succeeded; they went on to Photography or Drawing and Painting. The rubric is in the Program of Studies as a link. They have clear standards and expectations and allow students to show they can meet the standard.

Example in elementary ed.: best part was collaborating with K-12 vs. just elementary. What do we expect students to do by graduation? Teacher has done a lot of Understanding by Design and this was an organic process. What does it look like for Melrose? Started by drafting expectations for 12th grade, 8th grade, and then 5th grade. Some misconception that MA standards get lost in CBE standard, but they are truly embedded. Teachers also on the Curriculum Review Committee and every time they received feedback, they implemented suggestions. Parent groups and student groups contributed too.

Next Steps (summer of ‘17): develop draft scoring criteria for Habits of Learning and content areas for all except math and science. May continue the work into the fall and will ask teachers to start piloting with students. Then work on standards for math and science. Next school year: pilot and solicit feedback on scoring criteria, revise scoring criteria.

Q & A:
 Q: Status? Visual and performing arts have all standards set; still working on scoring criteria (proficiencies). Global Languages should be there by late fall. Must have the top of the pyramid first and have to get much feedback. Need essential pieces vs. long/involved frameworks. This work is taking us to a conversation about “power standards” (philosophical and content-driven conversation among educators, e.g. should a child be able to do a research paper?). Other districts said to prepare for a five-year process.

Q: What timeline is expected and how to reach into elementary level? MA: in process of exploring and learning a lot. Biggest resource challenge is time. The process that Visual Arts has gone through informs other processes. Art may lend itself more to this concept. Rolling out Habits of Learning in Fall, 2017 because they are clearly important (citizenship, self-directed and lifelong learning) and can roll out at every level in pockets. Art and music in every level because they’d already had skill sets that were measures of proficiency (e.g. perspective in drawing). When you have early adopters in every building, they act as leaders and teachers/modelers for other teachers. We’ve converted to standard-based report cards at the elementary level. Whether a student has met or exceeded expectations is the measure of progress. If the district has done measurements correctly, what are we doing in planning/instruction to bring student to “exceeds” level?  It’s been a very organic roll-out.

Q: What happens if the student doesn’t reach the expectation for the year in Habits of Learning? When building a system, think about timing (quarter, semester, etc.). Using this system, small number of things you’re aiming at and measure (e.g. setting deadlines). Student gets feedback on that. Have knowledge to move on re: content; but you get feedback on improvement on that habit and it will be easier to exceed the content. Student ownership using this model made it very powerful on visits. (Kids could say what they were working on and how their teachers showed them how they could get there.)

Q: Art curriculum: standards habits of learning? Rubric is very clear and students had to score a certain level. Better to reinforce what students already know vs. moving them on and setting them up to fail. Teacher made sure that they had quality materials. Emphasized perseverance and that students need to advocate and speak for themselves.

Q: Commend dedication to this concept. How are standards being rolled out?  Thinking about sequences. State has good frameworks. Can we roll out standards at middle school and separate habits of learning and content? The arts have national standards already K-12. HS is probably more difficult: content knowledge that is already leveled, by virtue of the HS structure. What should kids know that exceeds the common body of knowledge? They were moving too fast with older students (who didn’t understand the ownership of learning). On visit, they wished they’d started ownership of learning before content so students would adopt them. Melrose team was able to agree on the skillsets and felt the content areas would fall into place more easily, and can get agreement on Habits.

Q: While beneficial what would students lose? Two obstacles: we know we have a segment of population who will never be proficient so what does mastery look like for them? Also, we know kids make mistakes but often there are other personal matters that interfere socially/emotionally/academically for those kids. There is nothing that says a student must do high school in four years; this approach allows going slower or faster based on mastery and guiding what you do. It’s particularly hard for parents to understand.

Q: See benefits for child with special needs. On visits, did you talk with SPED educators? Yes. Melrose is very clear that SPED students are entitled to access to general curriculum. Some kids need more intervention and some kids need less. They deserve it and have the right to it. Melrose is very clear about what it looks like. There are three states (NH, VT, Maine) that graduate with competency based achievement. Looking at more than one thing to demonstrate proficiency and how that balances with their needs on an IEP. Instructional time meant to gain knowledge to gain skills; that shift would happen at the assessment level.

Q: How presenting this to students and parents? Hope to have a gradual presentation. It’s dependent on how far we get, and will see what happens in the summer. Want to pilot with teachers and students and to make sure it’s really clear around expectations. Need as much feedback as possible. In the exploration phase now. This is not curriculum, but an approach to instruction and measuring success of learning, a shift in how we think about what happens in the classroom. Students measured in the placement test (math) for 7th grade on content proficiency. Occasionally there are kids who more than exceed in a content area even without habits of learning.

Q: This is a big change and in order to be successful, students have to be partners; is there a formal mechanism to get feedback from students? Second graders gave feedback on habits of learning. Educators then asked: who does it need to be clear to, 2nd graders or 5th graders?

Q: Ultimately how to measure success? Score proficient or beyond. Should we ask MHS graduates whether they were prepared? Hoping we have more formal way to do that in HS and below. Supt. amazed at the number of colleges that have adopted this approach. Also know that more and more colleges are accepting this approach as students apply. “Endorsement” by colleges (63 now); go to Great Schools Partnership to find the list and they are branching out across the country. (Endorsement doesn’t say better than something else, but it’s another way to assess to make a decision about admittance.)

Q: Need students to be partners as well as parents and community members. Supt. has conference this summer and they’ll come back and present again in fall to provide update. How to involve parents? Will know better after summer work and fall pilots (e.g. teacher’s packet project). Parent University keynote section last year and that was helpful. Info is being shared with PTO’s and some Site Councils. Everything should be subject to review and revision and there is much work to be done. Supt. re-emphasized that no four school visits were alike; it was personalized (rural, charter, upscale, etc.) and interesting to see how they’d adapted the framework.

Q: Reflects sea change in way we do education in Melrose. Best of thinking outside the box.

Q: Impact on homework policy in Elementary Handbook? Hadn’t been very consistent with homework policy. Redefined so it’s a span and working up to what would be expected by a middle school student. Emphasis will be on reading (to yourself, to your stuffed animals, etc.). Updated language based on Ch. 222 discipline (synched with secondary handbook). How to ensure teachers will follow? Up to building administrators to explain to parents. Handbook communicates to both parents and staff. Also, teachers were involved in the process of revamping of homework policy so they’ve had an opportunity to take a look plus consistency in meeting guidelines. Supt: opportunity to share common language around homework makes for more conversations around the purpose of homework, etc. How do you see a weekly packet aligning with new homework policy? The practice shouldn’t be discouraged but teachers need to know the students and that students can get through the packet successfully by the end of the week. Homework is designed to give practice, not teach new content. It should not be a “source of frustration, or tears, or tantrum.” If a student struggles to get through the homework, the parent should write a note because it will give the teacher helpful information about the teaching and learning. Allows for differentiation (extension, authentic, organic). Open houses in the fall are an opportunity to frame the homework message and set expectations. Every appropriate communication with parents should include this information as it rolls out. At early grades, partner reading is what students are doing in school and should be replicated at home. It will be posted on web site and paper flyer will go out saying that. Hardship or translation services will be provided. Sign-off for parents to indicate they know and understand the content.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Year-End Activities and the School Budget: May 9th City Wide PTO Meeting

City Wide PTO held its May meeting this past Tuesday, with representatives from most schools in attendance and excited to talk about plans for their end-of-year activities as well as next year's planning. We also talked about the school budget for next year.

PTO Updates

·               The elementary, middle, and high school representatives talked about year-end events and celebrations, including elementary ice cream socials, plays, field days, and field trips. Lincoln Principal Donovan will be leaving the district as of July 1st, replaced by current Hoover Principal Corduck. Current Lincoln School Student Services Facilitator Carol Weldin has accepted the Interim Hoover School Principal position.
·               At MVMMS, incoming 6th grade parents are invited to Principal Conway’s introduction to the Middle School on Wednesday, May 31st from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.  (Students’ Step-Up Day is planned for June 14th.) The Veteran’s Memory Project fundraised throughout the year to host a trip Washington D.C. for Gulf War veterans and a guest (along with 20 accompanying middle school students). The annual Semi-Formal, 8th grade trip to NYC, and barbeque round out the school calendar.
·               This year’s final HS PTO meeting is targeted to parents of rising juniors.  ~75% of seniors are on internships now, AP exams are finishing up, and the school featured another amazing drama production: Thoroughly Modern Millie. Underclassmen have submitted requests for next year’s classes. The boys distance track relay is headed to Nationals. Senior Week begins Memorial Day week, culminating in Graduation on Friday, June 2nd at 6 p.m. at the Fred Green Field (all are welcome!) Fundraising has gone well for Melrose Grad Night and over 91% of seniors are registered to attend this safe and fun evening.

School Budget Update

·               The FY18 school budget was passed on April 4th and the Mayor formally presented the city budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 8th. The Committee will present the approved district budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 25th. In order to balance the budget from the original request in February, school and city monies were used to pre-pay materials, requests for additional positions were eliminated (.5 ELL, .5 social worker, an Instructional Technology Director, 1.5 secondary teachers, and 4 Title One tutors), and more money was taken from rainy-day type funds. The district was able to add 2 Kindergarten teachers, and 2 elementary special teachers (.5 art, .5 music, and 1 digital technology). Most significantly, the budget increases teacher salaries by $900,000 from the prior year. We continue to be grateful for donors in the district, like the Melrose Education Foundation, Victoria McLaughlin Foundation, PTO’s, booster clubs and many other groups and individuals, who subsidize one-time district needs.
·               State revenues this spring are coming in lower than anticipated and there may be some cuts but they are unlikely to be enormous. Next year’s state budget is a concern, and there will be much discussion before the required passage date of June 30th. There is hope that the Fair Share Amendment, a ballot question in 2018 that adds an additional 4% tax to personal income over $1M, will pass given that the monies are anticipated for education and transportation funding.
·               The federal education budget remains unknown.

Final meeting of the year is in June!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

DESE CPR, PD Plan, Elementary Staffing, Valedictorian, and More: 4/25 School Committee Meeting

At last week’s School Committee meeting, we shifted our focus from the budget to Educational Programs and Personnel, along with review of a policy related to student educational services. Highlights below are mine alone (along with any errors/edits!).

Field Trip
An MHS student trip to Poland is a new proposal and relates to the history associated with WWII, the fall of Communism, etc. 20-30 students are predicted to attend. MHS history teacher Mr. Pennacchio will come before the Committee at the next meeting to speak to the details of his request.

Coordinated Program Review
Dr. Adams and Ms. White-Lambright presented. This DESE review occurs once every six years and involves significant time, effort, many stakeholder groups, and a self-assessment period. It encompasses special education, English Language Learning, and civil rights. DESE staff visits for several days and focuses on 60 standard. It’s a thoughtful process. Melrose was found to be 100% compliant for special education; a very small number of school districts receive this rating. All credit to staff for this work and outcome. One form and one translation item will be changed. For ELL there are 22 elements and the district was found compliant for program and record-keeping, being cited for translation (report cards) in Haitian creole and Portuguese. Melrose also needs access to translation regarding extra-curricular activities. Aspen may be able to play a role in this area. As of April 7th, the district has 20 days to begin implementation with a year to comply. Title I was also reviewed and the district is in full compliance.

FY18 Professional Development Plan
Next year’s summer program seeks to continue the work done on social emotional learning and PBIS. The district has been working in Tier II and Tier III to embody core values (extra support). This year, they did training-the-trainers and need to build from Tier I to support these efforts at every school level. There has also been a successful implementation of technology, and they are now looking at integration within the curriculum. The most precious commodity is time and the district is looking at creative ways to capture more time for teachers, like book studies and engaging in an on-line platform (read and reflect and embed in classroom practice, with a product at the end to show how it’s employed in classroom, e.g. reading Anxiety and Depression in Young Children. 45 teachers participated last summer.) Microcredentialing is another method of PD:  do a task/do your own learning. Perform a task that’s job-embedded and implement it and earn an electronic badge as well as Professional Development Points [required for re-licensure] for it. The DESE document on inclusive practices is the basis of this theme in PD and aligns with the Supt’s budget priorities.

Secondary Code of Conduct
There are changes around absences (appeals, etc.). There is a focus on unreported absences (unexcused). Violation of parking code results in possible suspension (but only after multiple conversations with offenders).

Reinstating MHS Valedictorian
MHS Principal Merrill was approached by students who sought reinstatement of the Valedictorian. He polled students and staff who strongly supported the move. The Committee deliberated the impact of stress on students, other social/emotional concerns and mitigations that have been implemented, the history of the vote taken in 2014 around this issue, etc. The Committee voted to reinstate the Valedictorian effective immediately.

Elementary Staffing
The district will proceed with two extra K classrooms as budgeted. With respect to itinerant positions, Supt. Taymore is currently planning to incorporate an additional. .5 art, .5 music. and 1.0 digital literacy teacher. There is work not yet completed around re-thinking the elementary wellness model. (All PE teachers are dual certified in PE and Health/Wellness.) The new digital literacy teacher will have collaborated with classroom teachers to embed digital literacy in classroom work. By adding these teachers, the overcrowding of itinerant classes is being addressed.

Policy
Melrose has some students who are elite athletes and performers in the fine arts. It’s difficult to keep them at MHS due to graduation requirements and the district is losing students to the online high school in Greenfield. The Supt. began to think about how to keep students here. With certain students, the district could provide a vendor, courses would align with our standards, and we could then issue an MHS diploma. If students participate in Greenfield’s program, they can’t participate in Melrose activities and this policy would allow that. There is a cost but it is less than what it would cost to choice a student out ($3500 vs. $5000). It requires check-ins with teachers but that’s the only cost. The program would also support 5th year students who don’t want to be in Melrose High. Other districts are doing what we’re doing now, but this option is more planful; others are piecing together with face-to-face and on-line combo. This program is starting small and students must have extenuating circumstances that would apply to its purpose; it’s about students who need to earn a degree and need a program that accommodates them. Melrose currently doesn’t have control of curriculum for students at other schools and this program allows that. The policy will come up for a first vote at the next meeting.

Legislative Themes
Following our joint legislative meeting with Wakefield on April 5th, we agreed to draft some common themes from which a joint advocacy letter could be proposed and signed by both communities. The themes discussed were: 1. full funding of the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations; 2. charter school reimbursement funding at 100%; 3. full funding of Circuit Breaker [special education reimbursements]; and 4. funding of other budget line items that impact student learning (like poverty, food insecurity, an unstable home environment, and homelessness).

Next meeting is Tuesday, May 9th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Annual MASC Day on the Hill

From Boston’s Grand Lodge of Masons in Boston, today’s annual Day on the Hill was an opportunity for school committee members, student guests, and others to hear from legislators about budget/policy plans that affect public school children in the Commonwealth. Notes from legislators and MASC legislative priorities as follows:


Rep. Jay Kaufman, Chair of Joint Committee on Revenue

·               A fundamental lie is that we don’t have the money. We just don’t have the will to raise the money.
·               Data shows the poorest pay about 10% of income for taxes and wealthiest pay under 5%.
·               The Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 state ballot provides that the tax rate on the 2nd million dollars of an individual’s income would be 4% ($40K).
·               Would raise $2B/year to be used only for education and transportation.


Rep. Alice Peisch, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               The newly released House budget contains a Ch. 70 increase that’s a little higher than the Governor’s ($105M over last year); starts to implement the healthcare benefit recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC); $500K increase in METCO over FY17; $20M reserves for early ed staff (and anticipate doing more in early ed).
·               Has worked on re-files of bills that were reported out favorably last year. Her priorities are those that (1) give districts more flexibility and autonomy before they get to Level 4 status and build on opportunity to create [empowerment] zones; (2) improves teacher prep and creates career ladders; (3) new emphasis (not new concept) expanding early access to college in a more systemic way.
·               Please resist the rollback of state sales tax (to 5%).
·               Educate yourselves on ballot questions and advocate for those bills that support the tax revenues that fund our schools and state. (Legislators really listen to informed constituents.)


Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               Need to “keep being tremendous” re: advocacy around Ch. 70 funding. (Everything comes back to “it’s the Foundation Budget stupid.” Will take long, sustained, high level of activism.)
·               Gov. Baker’s Executive Order to recommend streamlining of regulations is being addressed by DESE in the area of education.
·               Advocates need to move strongly on all recommendations of FBRC because coalition is important (if not, “student groups will be splintered”).
·               1993 ed funding was successful because there were benchmarks. If we don’t start implementing, it will be time for FBRC review again (every 5 years). They recognize that you can’t “flip a switch” but could do it over 5 or 7 years.
·               FBRC gave a “hot list” of things that are known to improve student outcomes and that improve achievement gaps. Must do more than one intervention at one time (e.g. looking at data at school level vs. just district level to provide more tools to help make useful decisions).
·               Federal education direction unknown but whatever it turns out to be, it’s unlikely to impact FBRC.
·               What is standing in the way of students in poverty? It’s FBRC. 1993 started process to get everyone to a “quality floor;” that floor has eroded and districts who can afford it are spending it but for communities who don’t have local means, they are falling at or below Foundation Budget.


Sen. Pat Jehlen, Vice Chair of Joint Committee on Education 
·               People really value their local public schools and local democratic control.
·               House increase of FBRC is really not much and it would take 100 years (with no inflation) at this rate to get us to adequacy.
·               What about our legal obligations for circuit breaker, regional transportation, and charter reimbursements? We aren’t keeping our promise. Even Foundation Budget doesn’t recognize state requirements around technology.
·               MA is 42nd in equity across the country (lowest vs. highest spending schools). Taxing high, spending low, low achievement scores (accountability measures) are districts with most challenges (poverty).
·               Heard on FBRC listening tour: how can you judge a district with 27 Kindergartners in a class with no aide, 1/3 special needs and 1/2 in poverty, and hold them accountable? (Test scores mostly measure income.)
·               Accountability works two ways – if the state doesn’t provide money to districts that need it, they can’t hold them accountable for student outcomes.

MASC’s 2017 legislative priorities include:
·               support for early education programs (increasing program access; improving affordability; funding to support transition to full day K; and guaranteeing high quality programs/staff);
·               strengthening the children’s services safety net (encouraging cooperation between agencies serving families; funding and expanding promising social services programs and adding a Ch. 70 calculation for migrant, transient, mobile students);
·               funding the revision of Ch. 70 (increasing funding; ensuring realistic/accurate inflation factor; and ensuring a $100 per pupil increase for all districts to ameliorate under-funding);
·               full funding for Circuit Breaker;
·               charter school funding reform (require local approval; fully fund reimbursement account; and continue the enrollment cap);
·               restore funding for regional transportation;
·               full funding for METCO;
·               mandate and regulatory relief (freeze any new regs; prohibit DESE from issuing regs that don’t directly apply to public ed students, teachers, administrators; require that any proposed regs undergo impact study);
·               charter school operational reform (enroll cross sections of student population; require charters to meet sub-groups representative of sending communities; require pre-approval for new charters; require that charter trustees include approval and representation by sending communities; require charters demonstrate and share any innovative practices);
·               support rural school districts (encourage sharing of resources; ensure no authority will be authorized to consolidate, dissolve, or restructure without legislative approval);
·               retain Medicaid-covered services;
·               cover medically insured services in schools.

Marching orders: talk to legislators. Have students talk about their vision. Change happens slowly! Legislators have many issues to review and they need expertise of local leaders.