Friday, December 1, 2017

It is that time of year again to start thinking about the inevitable delay or cancellation of school this winter.  With this in mind, I want to remind everyone that school delays and cancellations are a part of what we must deal with by living in this section of the country.  The decision to cancel or delay school is one that I take seriously as dangerous driving conditions are a constant issue for schools who transport students, especially in a school district spread over 150 square miles.  We often have rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow occurring simultaneously across the varying elevations within the five communities.  After consulting with local DPW's, a decision to cancel school usually takes place by 5:15 am in order to give the bus company time to reach out to their drivers and a SchoolMessenger call will be made soon thereafter.  A two-hour delay occurs during the same time frame.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

State Auditor's Report on Regional School Funding

On Friday, October 27, 2017, State Auditor Suzanne Bump and members of her team visited our district to present the recently released report Supporting Student and Community Success:  Updating the Structure and Finance of Massachusetts Regional School Districts. I very much appreciate State Auditor Bump taking the time to speak with us about the findings in the report.  It was an interesting and informative morning, and I am hopeful that at least some of the recommendations made in the report will be implemented, to the fiscal benefit of Wachusett and other regional school districts in the Commonwealth.  Although there are several recommendations, the finding which could immediately benefit the WRSD in the short-term is the recommendation of 100% reimbursement for regional transportation.  An increase from the current 73% reimbursement to 100% would mean another $1 million in state support.  

To continue sharing the findings of Supporting Student and Community Success:  Updating the Structure and Finance of Massachusetts Regional School Districts, Ben Tafoya, Director of Division of Local Mandates, one of the authors of the report, has agreed to once again travel to Holden and will present the findings of the report to a joint meeting of Wachusett and Quabbin regional school districts stakeholders (attachment ). This meeting, which is open to the public and all are invited and encouraged to attend, will be held Tuesday evening, November 28, 2017, 6:30 PM in the auditorium of Wachusett Regional High School.  I encourage your attendance at this meeting to hear more about the report and ways that we can help the students in our district.

A one page summary of the report is also available.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Next Generation MCAS

Last week, DESE released MCAS scores for all school districts across Massachusetts.  This was the first year of the next-generation MCAS in grades 3-8 and 2017 will be used as a baseline year.  With that being said, all school districts and schools that administered the next-generation MCAS and which had an accountability rating of Level 1, 2, or 3 in 2016, will not be assigned an accountability level.  The high school, as all high schools did last spring, administered the original MCAS and remains a Level 2 school.  The WRSD and all other schools, with the exception of the high school, do not have a level assigned for this year.

Another change for 2017 includes the score levels for the next-generation MCAS.  The new MCAS scores fall into four categories: Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Partially Meeting Expectations, and Not Meeting Expectations.  According to information provided by DESE, the new standards for Meeting Expectations are more rigorous than the standards for reaching the Proficient level on the original MCAS.  As spring 2017 is a baseline year for the new test in grades 3-8, DESE says that the spring 2017 scores should not be compared to previous years' scores.

The District will be sending student scores out to families in the mail in early November.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Welcome letter to WRSD staff

Every year, I send a welcome back newsletter to the over 1,100 employees who work in our schools.  The following is the letter that I sent earlier this week welcoming staff back and sharing some of the items we are working toward this year:

August 28, 2017 As I enter my 27th year in education, I remain as excited and hopeful about the coming year as I did when I was preparing my classroom for the first time back in 1991. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome back returning staff and new hires, including over 58 new staff members. We are fortunate to have a strong group of educators joining our Wachusett family, including the new building principal at Central Tree Middle School, David Cornacchioli, who joins us from Oxford, Massachusett. For the past two months, David has been working in the District to become acquainted with his new learning community. I would also like to welcome two former assistant principals to their new interim positions. Shannon Bischoff has been named the Interim Principal at Dawson Elementary School in Holden, while Tammy Boyle has taken on the Interim Principal position at Thomas Prince School in Princeton. At this time last year, the district was in the midst of defining a Strategic Plan to guide us through the next several years. One of the items in the plan is the continued enhancement of technology use in schools by students and staff. With the recent passing of the school budget, I am pleased to announce that Chromebooks have been purchased for all incoming freshman at Wachusett Regional High School. I was fortunate to assist with the handing out of the devices last week, at which time over 400 Chromebooks were passed out over two days. Students and parents expressed gratitude and support. Special thanks to our IT department, Supervisor Barry Sclar, and the other members of the team at the high school that assisted with this initiative. Middle and elementary schools participating in MCAS 2.0 also received Chromebook carts this summer. We look forward to the new learning opportunities this initiative will provide for our students and faculty. Over the past two months, all of the school buildings in our District have been cleaned and prepped for students and staff. We have a dedicated and hardworking custodial team, and I am very pleased with the work they have completed to make our buildings and grounds look great. When visiting other school districts, I am reminded of how well the educational facilities of Wachusett are maintained. Finally, I would like to share some thoughts with you regarding the recent incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia. Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for School Superintendents Tom Scott reminds all district leaders that our schools are founded on the principle that diversity, in all forms, is always welcome. As educators, we are committed to providing opportunities for equity and inclusion that celebrate and embrace our differences. This will enable our future leaders to value all members of society to uphold our democratic ideals. Our district’s vision statement asserts: The Wachusett Regional School District will foster a vibrant educational community in which all students will realize their highest potential and become responsible and productive citizens. We are, and will forever be, committed to supporting all of our students, staff and families. I applaud your efforts to help our students thrive and prosper. Your dedication to Wachusett is appreciated by all. I wish you a successful start to the school year, and look forward to seeing you as I visit your schools in the coming weeks.        

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Start of a new school year!

Summer in New England is always special because our days are long and the weather is wonderful!  It has been a great summer here in the Wachusett District as we prepare for the upcoming school year.  This is an exciting time of year for educators, parents and most importantly students! I especially enjoy the first day of school when I visit all 13 schools in the district to make sure that the opening day has gone well.  I would like to remind families that the first day of school this year will be on Tuesday, August 29th.  Since we are starting school prior to the Labor Day weekend, there will be no school on Monday, September 4th because of Labor Day.  I have attached a link to the 2017-2018 School Calendar that highlights important dates for families to mark in their own calendars.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

WRSD Budget Passes

I am happy to report that the FY18 Budget for the WRSD has successfully passed as of the 24th of July.  To this point, the district has been operating under a 1/12th budget which is mandated by MGL when a school budget has not been approved prior to the end of the fiscal year.

I would like to thank the residents of all five towns for their continued support of our school district.  People move to our communities for many reasons, but I hear time and again that one of the main reasons for choosing this area is because of the education provided by the Wachusett Regional School District.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

End of the year message

It seems as though summer is finally around the corner as the wet and cool spring we have experienced is transitioning to a warm end of the year.  With the school year quickly coming to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon the past year and also look to the future.

Every year there are so many important events that occur in our district, that it is impossible to adequately list them all.  One item though, the completion of the WRSD Strategic Plan, stands out as an accomplishment that involved many stakeholders - from the Member Towns, the teaching staff, the School Committee, and District and school leadership.  The collaborative process of creating the Strategic Plan brought together representatives of all five communities and helped to create both a vision and mission for the District.   The WRSD Strategic Plan defines five specific domains that help drive an annual action plan, and ultimately better assist all parties in understanding how the plan will help define the future.   The plan is laid out over the next several years, but will be revisited and modified depending upon the needs and budget of the WRSD.  An item such as social and emotional learning has taken on a more prominent role in today’s schools, and our plan continues to build upon how we can better support students’ overall wellbeing.

Earlier this month, I had the chance to attend the Wachusett Regional High School graduation on June 8th at the DCU Center.  Having the opportunity to congratulate the 497 graduates is always one the highlights of the year for me.  In my remarks to the graduates, I noted the importance of being a good person, working hard, and being grateful to those who helped them get this far in their lives.  I truly believe that there are simple ways for our children to make the world a better place, and I am confident that our school district prepares our students to be the next leaders of tomorrow.  I want to congratulate all of our graduates this year and wish them luck as they embark upon the next chapter in their lives.

I would also like to honor those who have worked diligently to make our school district a wonderful place for kids.  I wish the best of luck to all of our staff who are retiring.  I also want to thank Central Tree Middle School Principal Todd Stewart who, after three years leading CTMS, will be leaving Wachusett to begin a new journey as a Doctoral student at Harvard University.  Todd has been a pleasure to work with and served as a very strong principal, an advocate for students and staff, and an always willing and dedicated member of our administrative team.  I would like to wish Todd and our retiring staff the very best.

Cynthia Anderson, Paxton Center School
Megan Bernier, Paxton Center School
Jo Ellen Bishop, Davis Hill Elementary School
Sharra Canan, Davis Hill Elementary School
Mary Cataldi, Dawson Elementary School
Anita Cook, Thomas Prince School
Deborah Duchesneau, Houghton Elementary School
Julie Freniere, Houghton Elementary School
Jeanne Girouard, WRHS
Claudia Holland, Glenwood Elementary School
Phyllis Jaillet, Davis Hill Elementary School
Mary Sue Kirby, WRHS
June Nunnari, Glenwood Elementary School
Diane Phaneuf, WRHS
Denise Prunier, Thomas Prince School
Nancy Shaw, Houghton Elementary School
Antonietta Spacciapoli, Davis Hill Elementary School
Geraldine White-Taronas, Mountview Middle School
Linda Wyatt, District-wide

As the 2016-2017 school year comes to a close and we look ahead to a new fiscal year beginning on July 1st, the District’s FY18 budget remains yet to be approved.  At the May Annual Town Meetings, two of the five Member Towns did not approve the budget requested by our district, which means that we will be working under a 1/12th budget until the FY18 budget is supported by the Member Towns and the School Committee, or when the Commissioner of Education sets the budget for the District in December  A representative from DESE attended the June 12th School Committee meeting to discuss the issues associated with the 1/12th budget, as well as the implications of the budget not being decided upon by December 1st.  Passing a budget that supports the educational needs of our children is so very important and we must continue to work with one another to find the means for dedicating these funds to our schools.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your support and dedication to the students of Wachusett Regional School District this past year.  Without the support of our employees and the five communities, the schools in our district would be a very different place in which our educators work and our students learn.  Have a great summer and enjoy your time relaxing with family and friends.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Digital assessments and MCAS 2.0

Computer-based testing will soon find its way into all classrooms throughout Massachusetts.  This year in our district, all MCAS 2.0 testing for grade 8 students is being conducted on computers or Chromebooks.  Beginning next year, it is DESE's plan to expand computer-based MCAS 2.0 to all grades.  Thus far, we have found the technical aspects of computer-based testing to be manageable, as the district has made a concerted effort to increase student access to technology in recent years.  Our proposed budget for next year includes further investments in student devices, in part to accommodate anticipated testing requirements.  As these additional devices are brought online in our schools, we will also be increasing our network bandwidth to ensure effective connectivity for all.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

State supports AP exams and low income students

In January of this year, I wrote a letter to Governor Baker imploring him to support low-income students by paying for their AP exams after the federal government cut funding for the AP program.  I am happy to report that the Governor has agreed to cover the costs associated with AP exams for low-income students with an allocation of $326,000.  With the collective support of our state representatives, senators, and educators, students across the Commonwealth will all now have the opportunity to take the AP exam regardless of their ability to pay.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Friday, March 10th, I had the honor of attending the Worcester Regional Science & Engineering Fair at Worcester Polytechnic Institute at which twelve of our high school students were competing. I very much enjoyed my time meeting with some of the students and learning about their impressive projects.  The twelve Wachusett students who competed on March 10th are:
·         Nicole Stark (grade 11) - Daphnia magna as a Bioassay in an Ecotoxicology Study on Pharmaceuticals
·         Jennifer Kim (grade 10) - The Effect of Vitamin A and Folic Acid on the Regeneration Period of Planaria
·         Tyler Jones (grade 11) - Show Me the Way
·         Annabelle Mathers (grade 11) - Evaluating Floc Interaction
·         Christopher Dwyer (grade 10) - More Green for Less Green:  An Analysis of the Necessity of Stirring Compared to Nutrient Levels in an Algae Photo-bioreactor.
·         Julia Danko (grade 10) - Finding Better Fuels
·         Natalie Matis (grade 10) - The Effect of Arachidonic Acid on Daphnia magna Reproduction
·         Christopher VanLiew (grade 10) - The Effect of the TGF-beta1 Protein on Planarian Regeneration After Photodamage
·         Mary Zgurzynski grade (11) - Rounding Up the Disappearing Honey Bee: The Effects of Glyphosate on Apis mellifera
·         Abigale Foster (grade 10) - The Effects of Warfarin on Drosophila melanogaster Memory.
·         Jaimee Zhuge (grade 11) -  Can the Anti-diabetic Drug Metformin Be Used to Treat Alzheimer's Disease?
·         Evan Mizerak (grade 11) - Re-Evaluating Reproduction: The Transgenerational Effect of High-Fat Dairy Intake on Fertility in Drosophila melanogaster
Ten of the 12 Wachusett competitors will compete at the State Science Fair in May. WRHS junior, Evan Mizerak, won the overall top place in the Worcester Regional Science & Engineering Fair and he now qualifies to compete at the International Science Fair in Los Angeles this May as a representative of the State of Massachusetts! Congratulations to the students, their parents, Science Seminar volunteers, and the staff of the science department for these wonderful achievements.

Monday, February 13, 2017

FY18 Budget Narrative

The Wachusett Regional School District maintains one of the strongest educational programs in Central Massachusetts, utilizing resources to support our students and staff.  The District budget was passed earlier in FY17 than in  FY16, and we are very grateful for the support shown to us by the Member Towns.

With our current FY17 budget in place, the WRSD defined areas of need by developing the WRSD Strategic Plan.   Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS), a Strategic Plan Steering Committee was established. The Steering Committee consisted of twenty-three members representing a variety of stakeholders from the Wachusett community.  In order to gain feedback from the community, a survey was conducted which produced over 2,000 responses. Focus group meetings were held in all 13 schools and in each Member Town. Drawing on the information gathered, the Steering Committee established five learning domains from which strategic objectives, priority initiatives, and action plans have been crafted.

The WRSD Strategic Plan provides the Wachusett community with a sense of purpose as we define priorities and set budgets. Each school has developed a School Improvement Plan that ties directly back to the Strategic Plan and will help define budget priorities at both the building and District levels. Goals that have been set by administrators and teachers will have common themes connected to the five learning domains, thus helping bring our five town district toward common educational outcomes.

I often reference the fact that the WRSD has one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in Massachusetts.  The most recent figures from the state have our district per pupil expenditure as the lowest in the state among all regional school districts and the 7th lowest of 320 school districts.  As I mentioned last year, all of the school districts that surround Wachusett have greater per pupil expenditures.  Our per pupil amount could be increased if the state agrees to follow through with the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission which found the funding for areas such as health insurance and special education were well under what is necessary to adequately support school districts.  I applaud the efforts our our state representatives on Beacon Hill to support education and encourage them to continue their fight for education and regional school districts.  

The current budget request for FY18 reflects a connection to the WRSD Strategic Plan as we focus on areas such as early literacy, science, professional development, and student health and wellness.  Budget increases are primarily due to contractual obligations, increases in health insurance, and a cost increase to our utilities.  In order to provide our students with a comprehensive educational program, I feel that the current request supports our district plan as well as the needs of our educational system.  

FY18 Budget Narrative

Monday, January 23, 2017

On Tuesday, January 10th, I had the honor and privilege of attending the Worcester County Superintendents’ Association Annual Scholars Luncheon, held at Clark University in Worcester.  WRHS Principal Beando and I accompanied high school seniors Hallie Brown of Paxton and William Van Renterghem of Rutland as they were recognized and congratulated for their hard work and accomplishments, along with 66 other student scholars from around Central Massachusetts.  This is the fourth Scholars Luncheon I have attended and each year I walk away so impressed and amazed by the young adults who have earned this recognition.  I wish Hallie and William a great final semester as Wachusett students.