Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Proposed 9C reductions

Last month, Governor Patrick proposed 9C reductions that would have a devastating impact on the Wachusett Regional School District.  These cuts represent close to $1.5 million of reductions in our current school year.  Any reduction to our already lean budget will leave our school district in a precarious financial situation.  I, along with WRSC Chair, Lance Harris, sent Governor-elect Baker a letter urging him to repeal the reductions.  A copy of the letter is linked below:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let it Snow!

Over the Thanksgiving break, we had our first substantive snowfall of the season.  Although it is early, I wanted to remind everyone that school delays and cancellations are issues that we in New England must live with every year.  I understand that delays and cancellations are an inconvenience for many families who have childcare issues.  Making the decision around having school or not on a day with inclement weather is one I take seriously as snow or freezing rain may lead to dangerous driving conditions.   A decision to cancel school takes place by 5:15 am in order to give the bus company time to reach out to their drivers.  A two-hour delay occurs during the same time frame.  We average several delays and/or cancellations a year as the Wachusett District encompasses 5 towns with varying elevations.  While it might be raining on the Holden/Worcester line, towns with higher elevations such as Princeton and Rutland might have freezing precipitation.  I appreciate your understanding and patience as we enter this winter season.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Parent survey

I recently sent parents of WRSD students a link to a survey that I am conducting.  The questions are designed for open-ended feedback from parents concerning issues that deal with our school district.  Thus far, there have been over 250 thoughtful responses to the survey and I hope to have close to 300 by the time I begin to review the survey data.  I will be using the survey data to assist me as I begin the FY2016 budget development process while working with our school committee.  I will also be seeking input from other members of the Wachusett community with an online survey that will be accessed through the WRSD website.  Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to complete the survey.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 2014 MCAS presentation

MCAS scores were recently released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and administration and teachers are in the process of reviewing data associated with the scores.  We have some concerns about current trends and are determining the necessary corrective action to alleviate these issues, especially in the area of Student Growth and subgroups.  The use of data to help drive instruction keeps educators aligned  with the learning occurring in classrooms, but we must remember that MCAS is a snapshot in time in terms of student learning. Principals have begun to analyze their data and are providing feedback to grade level teams and individual teachers around items such as student growth and specific areas in need of improvement. 

At our most recent School Committee Meeting, Nancy Fournier, the Director of Assessment and Accountability, reviewed the WRSD MCAS scores for 2014.  The presentation was well received and included an MCAS overview Powerpoint.  Please take time to review the presentation linked below:  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Groundbreaking Ceremony at Mountview!

This past Saturday morning, I was honored to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Mountview Middle School in Holden.  In attendance were Senator Harriet Chandler, Representative Kim Ferguson, representatives from the MSBA, Holden Town Manager Jacquelyn Kelly, School Committee members and members of the Mountview Building Committee.  Master of Ceremonies, David White, did a wonderful job organizing the event.  I want to thank Principal Erik Githmark, Chair Paul Challenger and the other members of the Mountview Building Committee for their hard work over the past several years.

This project represents the last in a long line of school renovations and construction projects that the District has been part of in the last two decades.  When completed, Mountview will be a state-of-the-art learning facility that is designed to last for generations.  Student learning spaces will be bright and airy, with technology access throughout the building.  In less than two years, Holden middle school students will be attending a true 21st Century school.  It is my pleasure to be a member of the Mountview Building Committee.  I look forward to watching the building take shape over the next several weeks and months.  

School and home safety through Meghan's Hope

Last week, Kimberly Amato, a Sterling parent and founder of Meghan's Hope, spoke to building principals concerning home and school safety for children.  For almost 10 years, since the loss of her daughter Meghan to a fallen dresser in her bedroom when she was 3 years old, Kim has worked tirelessly to raise the awareness of the dangers associated with tip-overs at home and at school.  Large television stands and bookcases are areas that schools must pay attention to in order to insure the safety of both children and adults.  Kim's presentation was deliberate and straightforward, showing us the dangers of common items in the home or school that could easily cause serious injury to a child.  I want to thank Kim for her tireless work in this area and encourage parents to visit her website where safety resources can be found.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Wachusett App

As a means to further enhance communication within the WRSD, I am pleased to announce the Wachusett App.  Over the past several months, we have Beta tested the app that is now available to download for free through the Apple App store or GooglePlay.  The app has several components that will be helpful for students and families, including links to:

  • the school calendar,
  • athletic schedules for the high school,
  • a staff directory by school with direct links to email,
  • the mobile PowerSchool site,
  • the superintendent’s blog,
  • school listings with phone numbers, and
  • a map that will provide directions to any school in the district.  

For the next software update, we will be adding a direct link to our bus company, AA Transportation, as well as a link to the main District website.  Also included will be push notifications for messages sent through the Superintendent’s office, including items such as the cancellation of school due to poor weather.  

Having the opportunity to provide mobile support for our students and community is a vital part of a 21st century school district.  During Governor Patrick’s recent visit to our District, I had the pleasure of showing him the app, and he was very impressed with its utility.  I encourage you to download the app and stay connected to the great events occurring within our school district.  

Governor Patrick visits Thomas Prince School at WRSD

On Thursday, September 4, we had the honor of welcoming Governor Deval Patrick and Secretary of Education Matthew Malone to Thomas Prince School in Princeton.  Secretary Malone had visited Thomas Prince earlier this year and was so impressed with the STEAM program that he asked the Governor to see it in person.  The Governor interacted with students while they used iPads, watched as students experimented with water and surface tension, met with students who shared information about the nature trail, and received fresh vegetables from the courtyard garden at the school.  The Governor and Secretary both noted that there was already a great deal of learning taking place even though it was only a few days into the school year.  I had the opportunity to speak with the Governor about the importance of experiential learning and also show him our new Wachusett app. He was impressed with how the app allows us to connect schools, students and families through mobile technology.  

Principal Cringan and the entire Thomas Prince community did a wonderful job sharing their STEAM knowledge with the Governor and Secretary.  I was very proud of all of the students, staff and administrators as we walked through the school.

The following links are to the flickr pages for the Governor and the Secretary where you will find pictures of the visit:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Opening Day with WRSD teachers

At the high school this morning, it was my honor to welcome our teachers to "Opening Day" as we embark upon an exciting and promising new year.  We began the morning with coffee and light refreshments providing teachers and administrators the opportunity to convene in an informal setting.  Thereafter, I recognized new staff as well as teachers who have worked in our district for 25 years or more.  It was my pleasure to call the names of almost 40 teachers who have worked in the WRSD for between 25 to 41 years.   This important recognition of teachers has not occurred for many years, and I am happy to report that it was well received.  I also reviewed information pertaining to District Determined Measures (DDM) and the role they will play in professional development this year.  Finally, I discussed the importance of formulating core values as educators as the means to provide students with the support they require.   Reaching out to students was also the theme of my discussion with principals at our retreat this August. In order to advance this important theme, several principals will be discussing core values at their opening day with their teachers.  

With over 500 teachers and administrators in attendance this morning, the auditorium was buzzing with the anticipation of the start of the new school year!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Letter to families, staff and students

The following letter will be shared with the Landmark and will also be on the WRSD website as my welcome back letter for the 2014-15 school year:

I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the students, families and staff of the Wachusett Regional School District to the 2014-15 school year.   Summer in New England is often fleeting, and I hope you had the opportunity to enjoy yourselves over the past few months.  I am excited about the upcoming year and would like to share information with you about our school district.

This year, the WRSD will continue to focus on providing our students with the best education possible through the avenues of student safety and well being, professional development for teachers, continued alignment with the Common Core, and further enhancement of our technology program.  Individually, these initiatives are all important, but when combined, they provide students with a strong, comprehensive opportunity for learning.

Students need to feel safe in their school environment in order to learn, and this is a priority for the District.  All of our schools have safety protocols, including front entrances with buzzer systems, security cameras, and school crisis plans.  This fall, working in conjunction with local police and fire departments, I am establishing a District-level emergency management team for each town in the District that will be responsible for oversight of building level emergency management.  

For the 2014-15 school year,  we have established a strong professional development program that will support individual professional development programs for teachers, as well as District-level professional development.  This support will increase instructional knowledge and improve learning outcomes for students.  With the addition of a Curriculum Supervisor for the middle schools, I am confident that our support of teachers will benefit the District.

We are proud to introduce two new math programs that are aligned with the Common Core.   Both math series,  Eureka Math and Big Ideas Math, are aligned with the new state math standards and reflect a more consistent methodology for teaching math concepts.  These new programs will help our K-8 students be better prepared for high school math courses through consistent learning outcomes and goals throughout all of our schools.  

Finally, the District will begin to provide a robust wifi-infrastructure to improve our interconnectivity.  For example, our high school is working to provide wifi access to students in most of the common areas throughout the building.  This will enable students to work on assignments while they are engaged within our learning environment.  Beginning this fall, I am launching a new Wachusett mobile app that will allow students, staff and parents/guardians to access District and school information.  Mobile learning and information access are vital to the success of our students as they prepare for higher education and/or the job market.  

I would like to thank all parents/guardians, teachers and staff for their continued support and dedication to the education of the children in the Wachusett Regional School District.   Working together, we will provide our students with a quality education that will prepare them for success in the future.    I look forward to seeing you at the start of the school year.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Life Skills students giving back to the community

Last week I had the honor of attending the 2nd annual Helping Hands breakfast sponsored by the students who attend the WRHS Life Skills program.  WRSD teacher, Cathy Steiner, has used her time working in the summer to help students better understand the importance of community involvement.  I, along with senior guests, high school staff, and family members, were treated to a wonderful breakfast where students shared their thoughts about the summer program and what it means to help others.  Cathy told me that this year’s “Helping Hands” students were inspired by “The Starfish Story” and wanted to continue to make a difference. The students collected wish list items from guests who attended this year’s breakfast to donate to the Why Me Sherry’s House and Sweet Pea’s Animal Shelter.  Soon, the students will deliver the wish list items and also make cookies for the Why Me families. 

Cathy noted that this community breakfast is special because it’s a successful learning experience 
for all of the students, and a way for students to feel that they are “Making A Difference”.  She says, "Not only did the activity offer the opportunity for the students to socialize with members of the community, but students also planned a balanced meal, created a shopping list, went grocery shopping and purchased the items on the list, followed every recipe and presented the breakfast on beautifully decorated tables with each guest leaving with a memorable favor."  What a great opportunity for our students and the community!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I recently read an article in the NY Times that discussed the benefits of students actually writing versus keyboarding.  This is a topic that has been discussed for as long as computers have been in the classroom, but until only recently have scientists been able to discern how brain activity happens differently when writing versus typing.  When I taught years ago, computers were not used for actual composition.  Instead, students wrote their first draft by hand and then proceeded to type a final draft.  I often wondered how student writing would change if they were to use a keyboard and computer to actually compose their work.  With the advent of speech recognition software now becoming more prevalent in schools and with personal devices, there will most likely be another shift from typing to speaking directly into a device in the very near future.

Writing, drawing, and painting were all modalities that assisted us when we first learned to put our thoughts and ideas down on paper.  If you walk into any kindergarten classroom you will note students writing, drawing and painting as they learn to communicate and create.  Fast forward to the high school and there will be students writing, drawing and painting as a means of communicating their thoughts and ideas.  Computers and personal devices are now a vital part of our schools and our homes, but focusing attention on the importance of using handwriting will help to balance this evolving situation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When I first began teaching over 20 years ago, computers were still considered a novelty in most classrooms.  The computers that my students used in the early 1990's were not connected to the Internet and were primarily used for learning games such as Mavis Beacon and Oregon Trail.  Fast forward to 2014 and our students are now using smartphones and tablets to communicate, learn, and create.  This is why it is important for the WRSD to implement a BYOD policy and implementation plan that allows students to tap into the technology that they already have in their backpacks or pockets.  

Every year, we discuss the prospect of having students bring in their own tech device for use in schools.  This discussion has ensued for several years now as our school district grapples with many of the issues associated with BYOD.  Currently, the Education Subcommittee is working on a policy that provides guidance for the usage of student owned devices in school.  The WRSD is also committed to increasing the wireless infrastructure in our schools to provide more equitable access to information.  As we look at the implementation of a BYOD policy we must remember that not all students have their own tech devices and classrooms still must have access through school owned devices such as desktop computers or tablets.  

I am also sharing an article from District Administration online magazine that explores the successful implementation of BYOD programs in three different school districts .  There is a great deal to learn from other school districts that have already begun BYOD programs and this article shares some useful information for educators and parents concerning the implementation of such programs.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Math Programs chosen for K-5 and 6-8
After several months of research, piloting of programs, and discussions, both the middle and elementary staff have chosen math programs to be purchased for FY15.  The Math Leadership Team for middle school chose Big Ideas which will be implemented in grades 6, 7 and 8.  The Math Leadership Team for the elementary level chose Eureka Math for all elementary grades.  Both programs align with the Common Core and have either workbooks, textbooks, and/or an online component. We will be purchasing portions of each program using funds from both FY14 and FY15.  This is an exciting time for educators in kindergarten through grade 8 and, I want to thank all of the members of both leadership teams for their hard work on this important endeavor.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This week, I had the opportunity to attend two meetings with other Superintendents from across the Commonwealth to discus both the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) and MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) assessment systems.  Commissioner of Education, Mitchell Chester, took the opportunities to discuss the options that each school district will have in 2014-2015 concerning the continued implementation of MCAS or moving to PARCC.

This year, PARCC has been piloted throughout Massachusetts by over 81,000 students using both the paper/pencil versions of the exam as well as the technology version.  In year 2 of the pilot, all schools districts will have the choice to administer either PARCC or MCAS.  An issue that arose this year was that many students were double tested when they took both the MCAS as their true standardized state assessment and also the pilot version of the PARCC.  For 2015, there will be no double testing as each district will choose one assessment or the other.  

It has been helpful to hear what other superintendents have had to say about the implementation process associated with PARCC.  Although WRSD participated in PARCC for both paper/pencil and technology based pilot testing, I am still concerned about the issues associated with online testing as our technology infrastructure and support system does not currently have the capacity to take on such testing.  Both Burlington and Revere public schools volunteered to pilot the electronic version of the PARCC for all of their students but the tech capacity for both of those districts far surpasses what our current tech abilities are. ( For example, every student in the Burlington Public Schools is issued an iPad starting in grade 1.  Their capacity to take an online, or even cached, assessment is far greater than most districts, including WRSD.  The recommendation from DESE is that there is a 2:1 ratio of students to technology (desktop, iPad, Chromebook, etc) for the best implementation process for PARCC testing in the future.  Currently, the WRSD is not close to approaching the recommended ratio. 

In the end, there will be a new assessment that our students take, be it PARCC or an updated version of the MCAS.  School districts need DESE to understand that each district will need time and financial support from the state if they plan on a comprehensive rollout of any new assessment system.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recently, Principal Mary Cringan of Thomas Prince School, was honored with the Teach Award by Wreaths Across America at their very first Educational Summit .  Mary and the Thomas Prince community had the opportunity to support Wreaths Across America this past December.  Mary, the staff and the students did an amazing job of welcoming the members of the convoy who were on their way to bring wreaths to lay on the gravestones of veterans at Arlington. This was a great honor for Mary and the entire Wachusett community!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Touring Mayo with Secretary Malone

On Thursday, March 27th, Secretary of Education Matt Malone made his second visit to our district in as many months, this time visiting the Thomas Prince School.  It gave me great pleasure to be able to welcome Secretary Malone to the Wachusett District and I thoroughly enjoyed touring TPS (on the 27th) and Paxton Center School and Mayo Elementary School when Secretary Malone visited on February 6th.  On March 27th we were also honored to be joined by Senator Chandler and Representative Ferguson when we visited classrooms and listened to students as they talked about the learning occurring at Thomas Prince. Secretary Malone has a hands-on approach when he visits schools and we were honored to have him return to see the STEAM program in full swing at Thomas Prince.