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Superintendent's Journal
Year 6: 2013-2014

Week beginning June 1, 2014
(Introduction to the Superintendent Journal)

Hit Counter by Digits

Friday, June 20, 2014 and One More Week: Morning Coffee with Joanne, SchoolTalk with Donna; Water with Gary; Almonds with Mel; Lunch with Liz; Yogurt with Anita; Tea with My Computer

It’s feeling rather pressured in the old office. No time to think about potholes in the parking lot—calling to ask them to be fixed—or assuring another grant is submitted. I’m starting to put things that need to be done in trays with notes and just reconcile my list with what can be done. Can’t do everything so you just do what you can do. I don’t recall other positions being this difficult to organize for leaving. It would help if I would stop having ideas or caring about details.

If these last days are going to be named and yesterday was “Hectic at the High School” then today was “Nibble through Paperwork.”

I almost always have breakfast but not today. Joanne always has half-test coffee brewed and this morning I had coffee with Joanne to coordinate where we were in the multi-page list of people, programs, and things needing attention. Joanne is a committed assistant—patient—and I can see she is trying to memorize everything I mention. I can see the concentration in her eyes. I asked today “are you trying to memorize what I’m explaining?” Yes. Becky was the superintendent’s secretary for 7 or 8 years, so she probably could have run the school district. She knew every detail of every contract and who had been hired when, for what, and why. You learn a job’s details after a few years. Joanne started last August and with 650 or so employees and 7 schools, it is a lot to absorb in a short time. A+ to Joanne for patience and perseverance (and the morning coffee is a treat, too).

I had hoped to run up to the high school to see the auditorium with all the chairs removed but a stream of meetings go in the way. Yesterday was hectic in the high school but today I could hear in her voice that she had recovered. These jobs have days best described as a stress tolerance test. And yesterday was Donna’s stress test with the high school moving into the new building in a day. It is starting to sink in, I believe, that everyone at the high school is going to be in wonderful space next year—working heat! Windows that shut! Air circulation! No 50-years of grit in the floors corners. Modern bathrooms. Working lights and clocks. It’s terribly exciting for everyone. I’ll try to go through the school on Monday because for this 5-year plan—the light at the end of the tunnel just popped on. Teachers have moved into the new school.

Water With Gary
I know why the staffing for the Middle Grades is confusing—because there are 750 students in grades 4, 5, 6, and 7, three significant grants that include personnel (each with different guidelines), and one grant that changes all typical contracts. We went through all the staffing for all the grades and specializations for grades 4, 5, 6, and 7 at both the Math & Science Academy and middle school building. We thought we had most staffing in place but our personnel are people with families and lives and they make changes. We talked about changes.

Teacher A and her husband are moving to Chicago. Teacher B decided to take a year to build a ranch. Support employee C decided yesterday to retire June 30th. Teacher D is fabulous but will not be recertified for some reason. Teacher E is moving to Pennsylvania. Grant X has less funding than last year so specialty position F will have less time. Employee G won’t have time for a 2nd school so we need another 30% of G’s specialty. Really? How does anyone keep up with this? They should make school staffing a board game. Draw a card and the Science teacher is called to duty in Hawaii the day before the science fair. Draw another card and 123 students you never met with no records are registering for school in two days and need teachers. Of course, changes are also opportunities to think deeply about what you do and where you have untapped talent--opportunities for Greenfield school employees to move into other positions.

Gary is particularly patient today. He sees the piles of papers needing attention and understands. In six years I do not think I ever once saw him get rattled. During our attempt to go over all the staffing changes for 750 students, we were probably interrupted about 12 times and each time Gary would say “that’s okay.” We managed to also discuss mathematics teaching, the importance of health education, different instrument majors of music educators, and a truly interesting idea for all students in grades 4, 5, 6, and 7 to read the same book, connecting with the famous author (wait a minute—this sounds familiar). I have to say that Gary has become convinced that the arts brings students to life in ways that classroom academics does not. This year his students have had theater performances the quality of which surprised even Gary. He would say “that is the best show I’ve ever seen in this school in twenty years!” He is convinced about keeping theater as an enrichment program for students. I’m also hoping we can find a teacher with TV production interests, like Social Studies teacher Chip Bull who retired last year. GMS has a whole TV studio in place. In my first teaching position, my school had TV cameras for broadcasting school through a children’s hospital and I remember writing camera scripts.

Almonds with Mel
Gary and I were almost finished when Principal Mel Goodwin walked in with that have-I-got-some-purchase-orders-for-you smile and a jar of almonds. Nearly all administrators were teachers originally. Gary taught science. Mel taught middle school math. And so we re-engaged in the math text book discussion, reading comments sent from Europe by experienced math teacher Heather Evans, and snacking on almonds. I couldn’t address Mel’s purchase orders without some grant-balance figuring and while I was estimating, Business Manager Liz Gilman walked in with a stack of papers needing signatures and the budget needing final adjustments.

Lunch with Liz
Somehow it was 2:00 p.m. now and Liz had the idea of a fresh air break. With Mel’s purchase needs waiting for grant computations and Gary’s staffing needs finished and Saturday’s jobs ad readied for the newspaper, Liz and I took her stack of papers and walked downtown for lunch at Brad’s (a quick place to get breakfast at lunchtime). In order for Liz—the business manager—to methodically create an accurate budget for staffing costs at each school and system-wide (approx. 11 million dollars), she has to keep a master list of every single person we hire under each appropriate account line in the budget with percent of time and total-year salary. On any day, the lists need updated to adjust for Teacher A moving to Hawaii or teacher B transferring to a different school or position. There are staffing changes all the time. So we had breakfast while reviewing pages of staffing details from my notes that A is now B, and B is now an open position, and so on. We did talk about Liz’s children for a moment—which makes Liz’s eyes light up because she has terrifically talented grown children and a first grandchild.

Yogurt with Anita
Today was Anita McDowell’s last day in Greenfield. She was here for four months on a combination intern/consultant role. Her specialization is teenagers with emotional disturbance whose needs could require residential placement so I traded some mentoring in special education administration for assistance with research and writing on teaching emotionally disturbed and traumatized youth. I had made a last request related to organizing a spread sheet with all of our grants and grant details, which she did, and we talked about her future job interests. We had our final administrative discussion—on the finite differences between provisions of two statutes--504 and special education. We discussed how and why these two legal provisions get tangled and confused and the pros and cons of having someone with special education background handle both programs.

Around 5:30 it was yogurt with Anita. And then finally some quiet time alone for concentrated work. I managed quite a large pile until I gave up at 9:30 p.m. With weekends for packing I have ten days to go. Tea with me and my computer later and then it will be the weekend. I am going to try for some packing over the weekend.

I think I should find Jason Schneider. The first weekend I worked in Greenfield Jason came to the office, introduced himself, and helped me arrange furniture and clean up the office. It’s only fitting he should return for the last weekend to help box everything up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Last Day of School, Packing Up Davis, Packing Up and Demolishing GHS, Garden Meeting

Last Day of School
Today was the last day of Greenfield’s 180-day school year. It was hot. And it was a short day for students. I visited the Middle School building today to deliver continuing teacher contracts. Teachers must ready their classrooms for leaving and were moving boxes in, out, and around. People seemed upbeat. We are going to do some painting at GMS right away in June to freshen up the building. With many students in grades 4, 5, 6, 7 the light-colored walls, after 5 years, show lots of fingerprints and smudges. It’s nice to see a school relaxed and everyone planning a well-earned vacation.

Packing Up Davis
I spent some time packing today, too, particularly my collection of old school textbooks going back to the early 1800s, and early documents (early report cards, contracts, etc.). I bring these out often to show how our standards and curriculum have changed over 100 to 200 years. In the last week I brought out a few grade 4 and 5 “Readers” from 100 years ago. People gasped at the reading and vocabulary level. These 5th grade Readers (children had selections from other books to read) probably were written at what we would consider a college level today.

My collection includes two books Donna Woodcock gave me a few years ago: a 1950s book titled Careers for Girls and a 1950s book titled Careers for Boys. We’ve come a long way from the career messages of the 1950s when girls were encouraged to consider mostly teaching, social work, sales, nursing, and being lady farmers. So I boxed up my old books and documents. I have to think what to do with the collection which is extensive. Seems to me the connection to the past is ever so interesting—looking back at the purpose of education for a community, our country, in the world.

I have a 1936 publication from the National Education Association—when American teachers were first organizing as a union. The NEA published a wonderful series on the history of America and how to keep our country strong called Building America. The series has dozens of pictures and would be great for an American history course.

Packing Up and Demolishing GHS
Today’s name should be “Hectic at the High School.” It was ‘move and remove’ day and at mid-day it didn’t look like we could get every classroom’s contents moved into the new building as well as remove all the pieces and parts of the old building we wanted to salvage for other schools. We deployed more personnel to help at mid-day and somehow the job got done. It was hectic, though. And hot. This was a huge job, if you can imagine a school for 500 students being completely packed up and moved in one day. Donna coordinated this with teachers and it was no small undertaking.

We salvaged good items we can repurpose in other Greenfield schools, like new solid-wood doors we bought a few years ago to replace broken classroom doors at GHS. These doors and also clocks, racks, vent covers, or whatever we could use in other schools had to be removed today. Anything other schools can use had been previously identified, planning for today’s ‘move and remove.’ Every school principal and custodian (and some teachers) walked through the high school tagging items they could use or might night. We have difficulty sometimes finding parts for our 1960s school buildings so lots of little fix-it parts were of interest.

Why is this happening? Because the old GHS is going to be demolished in a few days. Yes…demolished as in ‘gone.’ And this will end Phase I of building the new high school—all the classrooms move in to the new building, the old vocational wing with art and woodshop rooms will be renovated for use as science labs and special education program rooms next year. Then the current 1957 classrooms, administrative offices, and current science labs will be demolished. Our teachers are now in their new-building classrooms for this September. The auditorium has now been completely stripped of chairs and reconstruction to bring this to code is underway.

Phase 2 now is underway—building the new science labs and special education rooms. Phase 2 also includes building the new kitchen area. And beginning this December 2014 100% of our 350,000+ meals per year will be prepared at the Greenfield Middle School with the kitchen being expanded to accommodate the high school’s 9 cafeteria staff. This arrangement will last just one year and then—food services moves back from GMS into a new GHS kitchen.

I’ve heard teachers comment with disbelief that they now have spacious, new, code-conforming classrooms. Clean, bright, beautiful. All rooms will have the latest in interactive technology. As the last high school in Franklin County to be modernized, Greenfield High will now become the most modern and up-to-date high school in the county. This is a year for Greenfield students to consider returning to Greenfield to enjoy the wonderful new school building. And there are many new staff these days. And terrific programs.

Speaking of which, Cathy Wilkins has nearly 40 students going on the White Mountains trip--the prelude to GHS’ Advanced Placement Environmental Science course. This year the White Mountain science education hike is being coordinated with the Appalachian Mountain Climbing Association which will assure all student participants have the proper gear.

We also have students taking the one-week Anthropology course at UMass this summer. Both summer programs are free. I like writing those words—“no cost to participate; free to Greenfield students.”

Garden Meeting
Late this evening I walked outside Davis and around the community flower and vegetable gardens. A woman who emigrated to Greenfield from Moldova was there and we started a conversation…about her garden and learning languages. She mentioned wanting to continually improve her English and said the class she took was very difficult. I said I’d like to learn some Russian and she said she’d be glad to help me as she is fluent in Russian—that in Moldova bilingualism included Moldovian and Russian but in neighboring Romania bilingualism was Romanian and English. Families from Romania had an easier time coming to English-speaking America. We exchanged greetings in Russian, Moldovan, and English. The gardens are in full bloom, now. People are so talented and attentive to creating frames for climbing vegetables. You can learn a lot just from walking through the Davis Street Community Garden. And I learned about children coming to Greenfield area from Moldova and Romania. I heard high praise for Luchia, our interpreter/tutor who speaks Russian, Moldovan, and Romanian.

And then it was time to close out the day.

Monday, June 16, 2014: Two End-of-Year Events

Maybe someone will share pictures.

At 5:00 p.m., I joined Newton’s end-of-year Hawaiian luau—a theme end-of-year party complete with limbo, leis (garlands of flowers), flip-flop bulletin boards (my favorite), walls covered with pictures of beaches where families were taking pictures, a dinner, slide show, and the works. It was quite a theme party and I thought I saw 150 people. The decorations were tropical and on every wall. Looked like everyone was having a great time, including teacher Eric Stone who was in full Hawaiian luau costume. This Newton grade 3 graduation party was surely creative and special.

Math & Science Academy (MSA)
6:00 p.m. was the grade 7 Math & Science Academy graduation and the cafeauditorium (or is it an auditoricafeteria?) was mostly full. Associate Principal Gina Fasoli opened and closed the graduation, welcoming parents and sending off students to the 8th Grade next year. Each student read a statement about attending MSA and what it meant to him/her to have completed grades 6 & 7 there. And then each teacher, before handing out a diploma, read a statement about the student to the student and audience. Everyone was patient, listening, applauding. I learned that one grade 7 student took grade 10 geometry this year (3 years ahead of schedule) and one student did well with all the challenges of not having English as a primary language. Several parents recognized me, stopped to talk, and said they appreciated this program being in Greenfield.

Earlier in the day I met with MSA Grade 4/5 teachers (the lower school program) and went over year-end math achievement results. We have normed individual scores from beginning of year, middle of year, and end of year. All the students made gains in math. I was surprised to see that the students who started with the lowest math scores were residents returning to the Greenfield schools. So our elementary K-5 programs are pretty good, I would say. The students returning to Greenfield caught up.

The program started with three students joining Ms. Scotera (band teacher) in a wind ensemble processional. The students are beginning musicians but it was very good. Ms. Scotera said she thinks there will be 50 students studying music instruments just at MSA next year. Sounds like next year’s middle school band might have 100+ players.

At 7:00 p.m. I was back in the office, trying to check a few more to-dos off my list. I was very glad to speak with MSA staff today. And all the MSA teachers have signed contracts for next year—all seem to have enjoyed working at MSA and that is very good. We have one grade 4/5 lower school teaching position to fill and quite a bit of scheduling and bus detail to work out.

Excellent programs and parents seemed so pleased at each. Pictures welcome.

Tomorrow I’ll try to finish teacher contracts. We are completing these school by school, trying to get these out to continuing teachers before school ends.

Saturday, June 14, 2014: Teacher Certification, Mayor Role in City Schools, Thinking about Newton, Meeting with New Superintendent

Teacher Certification
The MA Department o Education is studying teacher certification and is holding a forum on Tuesday, June 17th, 2014, at Greenfield’s library, 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Certification (licensing) interests me. I was once a state licensing director and worked for a few years in a statewide licensing reform effort aimed at higher standards. With certification or licensing you have to ask:

  • What is the purpose—why is licensing needed?
  • What does it cost—does the expense have value?
  • How often do we need people to update their licenses and what will be required?

There are lots of other questions, like does the licensing ensure people will be competent and should licenses from one state translate to another, but that’s another story.

Generally, there is a purpose or reason for licensing a profession—usually to protect the public. For example, you license beauticians because there is a public health need to prevent the spread of infection disease from dirty brushes and sinks. So the beautician standards include sanitation of sinks and combs. And why not just have standards without licenses? Because if people do not keep the standards, you can remove the license and remove the person from the practice of the profession. Controlling who is in the profession and having standards in areas where the public needs state protection is generally the reason for licensing any profession.

Anyone giving out medications needs to be licensed to protect people. Anyone doing surgery, putting hands on patients, handling a citizen’s money, designing roofs for public buildings—all require regulation and public protection. Realtors are licensed with licensing standards for how deposit money is safeguarded and assuring properties are not misrepresented. Funeral homes are licensed so they handle bodies in a certain way. Auctioneers are licensed so they don’t say something is an antique when it isn’t and falsely take people’s money. And so on.

But why is a high school English teacher licensed? From what is the public being protected?—a poor understanding of poetry? Do we really have to test a person with a mathematics degree to see if they can pass a math test given to people without math degrees? Is licensing teachers important for quality teaching? I don’t think there is a clear connection. Most colleges and private schools do not require teacher licenses, to my knowledge. I don’t know. It is an interesting topic where there is quite a lot of research.

Study after study shows that teacher certification doesn’t mean someone will be a skillful or effective teacher. Administrators know that. The research says that teachers who score higher on state tests have better achievement with their students and teachers who do well during their first two years of teaching will have better achievement results. High school teachers with masters degrees in their subject specialties have better academic results, according to research on what matters. For elementary teachers, the teacher certification training results in better results for students.

With few exceptions there seems to not be strong research that teacher certification has value in terms of better student academic results. Studies by colleges that prepare teachers for certification show certification is important, though.

What does it cost—and does the cost have value?
The process of getting certified and recertified is fairly expensive to the teacher and the school system. Certification standards in this state require teachers to obtain a masters degree, whether research shows the masters degree will have teaching benefit or not. And college is expensive—everyone knows that. And school systems like Greenfield pay for 2 courses/per twelve months per teacher, if requested. A masters degree is required for all public school teachers so essentially the taxpayers are asked to provide the majority of teachers a masters degree whether research shows it is beneficial to student learning or not. And then we also pay registration and travel (mostly instate) for people to attend all types of seminars needed for professional development needed for relicensing requirements.

My guess is that all the pieces of certification and recertification cost our school system between $50,000 and $250,000/year. And I’ll guess (purely a guess) that all the school districts in Franklin County spend $1,000,000/year or more on teacher certification requirements, courses, seminars, etc. And this wouldn’t include the time we pay people to keep checking on certification and writing to people about certification and telling people they cannot teach because they do not have certification, unemployment for uncertified people who cannot continue to teach, and costs of finding and replacing teachers. With $1,000,000 we could have a Franklin County program for emotionally disturbed teenagers which we need. Certification is an expensive proposition for taxpayers and teachers.

Now most people will say –“but teachers have to be certified”—because that is our habit and custom. But it’s worth thinking about—Does it have value? What does it cost? How often should people be recertified? Is all the certification we require the way we require it needed?

When I first started teaching, I had a lifetime certificate. Now teachers have to renew certification every 5 years of teaching. There are costs to the employee, too—taking the teacher test, driving all over to get the types of recertification programs required, etc.

What would happen if you were certified one time and then, instead of having to take hours of professional development just for recertification guidelines, the teachers just could focus on their school system’s curriculum programs? Research shows time spent understanding curriculum and instructional programs used by your school system positively influences achievement.

The teacher certification discussion is open to the public. Licensing, the need for licensing, and the cost of licensing and relicensing requires stepping back and asking critical questions: Why are we doing this? Should we do more? Should we do less? Are there types of licenses we need and do not have—like a liberal arts certificate where someone can teach more than one subject in a small school?

There are good reasons for some specialist teachers to be certified. There probably are reasons why everyone must be certified and recertified and recertified. It’s just a good discussion to have because the teacher licensing process is expensive.

Mayor Role in City Schools
National School Board Association’s has issued a report on Mayors of cities having a role with their city public education system. Their study results were mixed. On the one hand, having a Mayor involved can help schools, e.g. safer conditions or better public health services. On the other hand, too much Mayor influence on the school system can undermine the school committee’s focus on students or achievement and diminish citizen involvement.

The NSBA voted four (4) areas where a Mayor can be particularly helpful to a school board:

In 2006, the Delegate Assembly of NSBA approved a policy and belief statement about mayor and state involvement that “opposes any political jurisdiction to remove, diminish, or interfere with the authority of local governing boards and districts.” The statement further says that instead of takeovers, civic leaders and policymakers should: 

  • Ensure neighborhoods are safe and free from crime and students have safe access to and from school;
  • Assist in providing students with access to healthcare and other support services, including the expansion of community and parent outreach centers to help parents access services;
  • Support teacher recruitment effort by addressing obstacles, such as housing costs that can be deterrents to providing a quality teaching force, and
  • Work effectively with school districts to develop joint use projects to make the best use of public space.

Newton School
What is the best way to staff the Newton School so the school principal has help with the coming and going of many students, with coordinating the expanded learning time program, with parent outreach, and with connections to other elementary school principals?

The principal and I talk about this frequently. If one principal has many unusual responsibilities that take time, what is the solution—a part-time assistant? A part-time social worker? A part-time program coordinator assistant? Newton needs some type of additional support.

Meeting the New Superintendent—Jordana Harper
For several months I have been making lists for the new superintendent—tasks in the pipeline, documents she might need, people to whom she should be introduced, local organizations who support our school system. We have met several times, now. A few times she has just stopped by and I am glad to include her in whatever I’m doing at that time.

I’ve introduced the new superintendent to our registrar and explained the reports I receive regularly on student enrollment. She’s met Mary Link who coordinates projects like the Film Festival, the Walk to School initiative, and the high school lecture series. And on Friday afternoon she met Beth Markofski who was scheduled to meet with me when Ms. Harper arrived. We talked about Beth’s role helping Greenfield develop and coordinate music and theater programs K-7. Beth was chosen by administrators as the outstanding new teacher this year.

I didn’t have the benefit of any time with the outgoing superintendent when I started here but it surely saves time to have some background on topics at hand. It isn’t so much whether or not people agree as much as it is important to have a briefing on where things stand. Capital projects. Enrollment projections. School staffing. Etc.

The transition of superintendents is starting now. More listening to birds chirping and gardening for me. More late nights in the office and writing state reports for Jordana. It’s a big transition when superintendent’s change. In a short time the transition will be over, the schools will have new goals, and new energy will fill the system. I’m sure it will be fine.

Monday, June 9, 2014: New Baby at Davis; Kindergarten Kits!; Enrollment

New Baby at the School Administration Building
Greenfield Schools’ technology department is based on the second floor, over my office. They have a beautiful new baby! Many congratulations to Jeremy and his wife.

Jeremy and Jolynn

Kindergarten Kits!
Through a grant, Joan Schell ordered fabulous kindergarten backpack kits for next year’s kindergarten students.  The kits have cut-out numbers and interlocking cubes in colors for learning about numerical value, puppets, a writing board with crayons and an eraser, a coloring book with no pictures that can be erased, cut-out letters to practice sounds, rhyming cards that build phonemic awareness, a child’s magnifying lens, colorful scarves, a backpack to hold everything, children’s scissors, paste, and more. It’s called a Ready For Kindergarten kit.  Parents and children will have everything they need to play and learn at home. We are adding     a children’s book about going to kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers will know that every single kindergarten child has the same supportive materials at home for learning and play.

  Kindergarten Backpack

I review enrollment no less than every week. I keep records to show changes year to year, month to month, and week to week. We have lists that I review of every child who registers and every student who withdraws—where the student is from and where the student is going.

To date, we have approximately 100 school-age students who move in and approximately 100 school-age students who move out each year—all grades. Slightly more have moved in than moved out each year. Very few students leave Greenfield schools, once they are here. The exception is from grade 8 to 9 when typically students decide to finish high school at a technical vocational school.

This morning I reviewed the reports of the students leaving during the year to understand why they left and where they relocated. This was an unusual year as the state had more families needing homeless sheltering than ever before and Greenfield was selected as a temporary shelter location. We embraced the children, as the law and our own concerns require. We had approximately 140 students relocate here after October 1st and to date 109 of these students relocated out of Greenfield.

I ask to have this group of students tracked differently than our resident population so my in-and-out data continues as before. Not counting the students who come here temporarily, we have had 90 other Greenfield students move out of Greenfield since school started this year. Of the 90, only two (2) were school choice out students. That’s pretty amazing I think with approximately 1775-1800 students attending our schools. We have another 3-4 students who transfer to the virtual school which is in Greenfield.

We have more students choicing back to Greenfield during the year than choicing out. Each school works to build relationships with parents. It is good work, building community. Inviting parents in. Having events that profile student learning and just are fun for the entire family. We have had a goal (administrators and I) of attempting to respond to parents immediately if there is a concern. Quite a few students are choosing to return. When David Singer was City Council president he would say he wanted Greenfield Schools to have a seat ready for every Greenfield student. And we have a seat for everyone. By my estimation we have approximately 200 students per grade living in Greenfield if I count everyone attending our schools, everyone being homeschooled, everyone attending private schools, everyone going to other public schools.

It is amazing to look at where children and their families move. Some families move to other towns in Franklin County but they move everywhere--other countries and just about every state. Oklahoma caught my eye this morning and Texas. Last year a family moved to Utah. We really are a mobile society. So many people pick up and move away. And just as many people pick up and move here. I walk around Greenfield a lot and on a Saturday I see so many children playing. I do believe our increase in young children has something to do with young families moving here.

We are still enrolling for 2014-2015. If anyone knows a kindergarten child not yet enrolled, it would be helpful to let us know or encourage the family to make contract (772.1310) so we have an accurate count for next year. Since I will be leaving this June, I want to be sure the next Superintendent is not left with chaos and staffing, so we are now preparing and sending out teacher contracts so our schools are staffed for 2014-2015. Mostly this paperwork is for returning teachers, but it is a lot to do and have in place.

So…please help us assure as many students are enrolled early this year as possible so we know how many teachers we need, particularly children in grades K and 1, because many families wait until late August to enroll these young children and it is easier for the schools to know how many children will be attending, particularly kindergarten.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014: Greenfield to Modernize Green River School; Summer PD Posted

Greenfield to Modernize Green River School
We heard on Monday but could not announce until today that Greenfield has been approved to update the Green River School—roof, thermal window replacement, new boilers. The Accelerated Repair Program award will leave Green River School much like Four Corners—updated and energy efficient. No more leaking roof.

School districts can apply to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to have one or more school buildings repaired. Each community is eligible for a percent of reimbursement, not to exceed 80%. Greenfield has a 78% to 80% reimbursement rate. The MSBA has several different programs, and we applied to the program for new heating system, thermal windows, and roof.

This is good news for Greenfield because it is very expensive to keep repairing buildings with leaking roofs, faulty heating systems, windows that get stuck. The roof at Green River is slate (expensive to repair). The roof structure was built without air vents so no cold air flows into the attic space between the classroom ceilings and the snow-covered roof. What does that mean? It means the classroom heat gets right to the roof and melts the snow buildup on the roof. Then the wet snow freezes during the winter night. Then more melting the next day traps water under the ice which then makes its way into classrooms ceilings. Ceiling tiles loosen. Paint and plaster fall off the walls from water. The situation cannot be easily fixed without adding air vents in the roofing system. Something like that. Without a comprehensive repair, we just keep paying to stop the leaks, and paying to stop the leaks, and paying to stop the leaks.

One boiler is so old, it doesn’t work at all. The Green River repair will not be a huge repair but it is needed.

Lane Kelly, city Finance Administrator, works with me on these MSBA submissions. Somehow between us we write persuasive arguments for why Greenfield should be selected for state aid. It will be a year of planning and then, as with Four Corners, the updating will probably take place during the summer of 2015.

I read in a Worcester news report:

Accelerated repair programs on the MSBA agenda today

Not just Clark Street, West Tatnuck, Goddard, and Union Hill on the agenda today; there are schools from Auburn (the middle school and Bryn Mawr Elementary), Bellingham, Brockton, Dartmouth, Falmouth, Franklin County Regional Tech, Gardner (Sheffield Elementary), Gill-Montague Regional, Greenfield, Hampden-Wilbraham, Holyoke, Hudson, Leominster, Lynn, Medfield, Medway, Melrose, Middleton, Nashoba Regional (Florence Sawyer), North Attleboro, Northampton, Norwood, Orleans, Peabody, Quincy, Randolph, South Shore Regional, Southern Berkshire Regional, Springfield, Stoughton, Sudbury, Tri-County Regional Vocational, Tyngsborough, Wayland, and Wellesley...

Summer Professional Development (PD) Posted
It took a while but Greenfield’s inhouse summer PD program is now posted on the website. Any instructional personnel interested in these programs should contact their school administrator or my office.

Based on many conversations about our need to assure all teachers have this program available, a four-day course in Responsive Classroom is being offered. We need 18-20 people signing up to run this course.

Three (3) study groups are proposed for this summer to date—only one is posted at the moment. We will update to include two more tomorrow and we can add study groups:

  1. Trauma and the Effects on Learning
  2. High School Scheduling Models
  3. Advisor/Advisee Program Models and Features

The idea of having our own research and study programs is so a lead group of interested teachers can read a significant amount of research and program information, decide which of any features are important for Greenfield Schools, and create a product or report to share with administrators. From this, each school can consider the information.

We are also still planning a session on the new Educator Evaluation model during the first day teachers return after summer vacation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014: Superintendents Meeting, PARCC vs MCAS, Title III, Retirement, Police Grant, Tools of the Mind Training, Nancy Garlock, Mary Link

Superintendents Meeting
Today was my last, monthly, Franklin County superintendents meeting. I listen to my colleagues speak on different topics and realize that I am in the company of talented administrators. We have different interests but handle all requirements in common. There is always sharing of information. One opinion about Greenfield is that the well-being of Greenfield influences the entire county. People come and people go. It’s a bit awkward leaving, but I’ll get used to it.

Greenfield had information that one school could switch to PARCC next year (the new-to-be state assessment program). Checking with the state this afternoon, the whole grade 3-8 program or 9-12 program has to switch if there is any switching for next year. The one-school option is out (the principals’ preference). Some of the districts are switching completely to PARCC next year; one district is just switching grades 3-8; some are not switching. There are issues with all three choices—if you switch all the staff have to be retrained. If you do not switch you are stuck with the MCAS. There is already so much new training needed in Greenfield for different programs and projects—could our staff absorb one more item for whole-district training? Administrators thought not. Not this year.

Title III—Something Different
We have familiar federal grants like Title I (supplemental literacy teaching; our reading teachers) and Title II (professional development for teachers). Today I signed on for federal Title III grant funds next year (services and resources to increase academic achievement of ELL students). Students whose home language or first language is not English are considered English Language Learners (ELL). Every teacher and administrator in Massachusetts has to be ELL trained. Another new requirement, helpful to all teachers but still another requirement to integrate into all the other requirements. If a school district has fewer than 100 ELL students, you can only access Title III grants through a consortium grant (many districts signing on together).

This will be our second year participating in a Title III consortium. One Franklin County district said it had “3” ELL students. Really? We have three full-time ELL teachers and a Romanian/Moldovan/Russian interpreter/tutor. Having students and families with diverse backgrounds makes the school environment interesting. We think so. And the middle and high school have elaborate cultural fairs each year. At GHS, students made a large mural of flags from different countries of ancestry. There’s a value here of respecting others and building community among people of different backgrounds. I never will understand why anyone thinks growing up in a homogenous setting prepares you for college, work, or life in a global society. Diversity makes our schools rich. I think so.

I’ve been getting opinion and advice on retirement. They go like this:

  1. It’s great—you’ll gain 70 hours/week.
  2. Bored to death after six weeks. Find another position right away.
  3. Love it.
  4. I’ve retired three times and I I just love working. I’ll never stop.
  5. Why in the world would anyone want to work after retiring?
  6. Couldn’t wait to reconnect and work again.

No consensus on this, I see.

Police Grant
Due June 23rd, Greenfield is submitting a grant for a School Resource Officer. Mayor Martin said his office was submitting for two (2) officers. The national competition for this grant must be huge. No harm in applying. We will have good grant news to announce tomorrow, but not about police.

Nancy Garlock Visits from Academy of Early Learning
Nancy Garlock is a highly experienced, very talented, masters level Clinical Social Worker. She has worked with Greenfield’s preschool from before it was a preschool. She was a key player in the re-opening of the North Parish School (home of our preschool), closed by vote of the school committee in June 2008.

Saving the preschool was high on my list of first goals. At the time the preschool had a full-time principal, full-time secretary, full-time custodian, and it was big-time in the hole with expenditures. I told Nancy and Special Education teacher Liz Bednarski-Mahon that I could probably only get the preschool back open if we cut the overspending by $200,000 to $250,000.
And could they handle the preschool as teacher leaders together with administrative back-up? Yes. Sr. Elementary Principal Joan Schell has provided back-up now for six years. Nancy and Liz—well, they are now experienced in so many tasks for the preschool’s operation. They co-lead the preschool as part of their positions—one coordinating the special education components and the other coordinating the parent/child non-special components.

Nancy and Liz provided me with hourly preschool rates in the area—then I proposed and the school committee voted adjusted rates. When the school committee voted to close the preschool, Greenfield parents scrambled to find preschool services and it took two years to again have a healthy preschool. Now the North Parish School is filled—approximately 115 students. Four administrators back up the preschool: Joan Schell, Bill Bazyk, Liz Gilman (business), and me.

Today Nancy came by with recommendations for purchases and people. I told her she should get her administrators certificate because she has all the talents and organizational skills for this. It seems like the preschool is in a healthy place today—everyone working together as a team. We do need to find an administrator part-time to cover new requirements there. This building has a new playground and is training in preschool robotics. This is a thriving preschool today.

Mary Link at the End of the Day
Mary popped down about 7:00 p.m. I thought the building was empty. I first met Mary at a meeting in downtown Greenfield, summer of 2008. I’m not sure of the subject but all the senators and representatives were there. She introduced herself after the meeting and seemed to know everyone. She had been involved with Mohawk Schools during Greenfield’s demise, so I said she should come to Greenfield and fix the situation.

I needed someone part-time to just help me initiate projects on my mind, so I hired Mary. No regrets. It doesn’t unnerve her to talk about 10 different ways of approaching something and then honing in on the choice. We worked on Tennis Grants together. The Film Festival. The high school lecture series. Setting up the small theater, the culinary arts lab. Creating a program for textile arts both at GHS and GMS. Creating the museum series. The Walking School Bus program. Almost every program has taken root in the school system. We work together the first year and then Mary handles these programs pretty much on her own.

Tonight Mary said she found an email exchange from my third month here. In her note to me she said something like “take care of yourself and do not work so many hours.” She said I responded that after three months I would cut down my hours. And then we just laughed. OK. 8:30 p.m. Going home.

Monday, June 2nd, 2014: Questions and Answers, Visiting Newton, Summer Reading Program, Professional Development

I offered to answer any questions before I leave my position. I received questions:

Q: What do I think about regionalization of Franklin County?
A: The first state regionalization effort came about in 1882 when Massachusetts went from 2,250 districts to 350 or so. The post-war regionalization act was passed in 1949 and then was updated in 1974. Studies do not show that regionalization saves significant money or improves test scores. It does make school administration requirements easier for small districts. I think the model is too old to be useful for all 21st-century situations.

The model was designed before computer technology when only districts who were neighbors shared services with each other, even if they had nothing in common but location. Towns need to control their own schooling fate—even small towns. I fully support sharing services where they make sense to share, but the 1970s regionalization model isn’t the model I see as being needed for the 21st century. I think that’s why there are so few additional districts opting for this particular model.

Maryland and Florida have county models of school systems—a superintendent of each county. But in these states, there are dozens of associate superintendents and deputy superintendents. And as someone said when I called the Maryland Department of Education, the state was set up this way—it didn’t convert to the county model. Parents cannot find their county superintendent—there are many layers and levels. And I don’t think Franklin County should be the state’s test site because we are far away from Boston.  In sum, I support collaboration, even countywide collaboration, but I don’t support regionalizing Franklin County under the 1970s statute.

Q: Will I continue the Superintendent’s journal after I retire?
I’ve been thinking about this. I’m sure I’ll keep writing about schools. I’ve been writing about schools for a long time, even researching the first schools and all sorts of topics. I’ll need a different website to host the information. Ideas welcome.

Visit to Newton Elementary School
That new film we purchased for glass windows that prevents someone from seeing inside is pretty effective. I couldn’t see a thing from outside Newton’s front door, trying to look in. Once inside—children were working on computers in the waiting area and there were new chairs for parents. Very nice. New kick plates on lobby doors.  Details—lobby looks fresh and welcoming.

Principal Mel Goodwin and I met for quite a while going over lots of year-end details, including getting the Summer Reading Program set up for this July. Principals are calling the program the “4 by 4 by 4” program: 4 weeks; 4 days/week (Monday through Thursday); 4 hours/day. The program includes breakfast and lunch and is geared toward strengthening reading skills, particularly for children moving up to grades 1 and 2.  There might be a few 3rd-grade students, but the agreed-upon focus will be younger students in grades 1 and 2 this year—trying to boost reading skills early in the primary grades.

Speaking of early intervention, Principal Goodwin showed me her math scores from our growth model assessment given at the beginning, middle, and end of the year at all of our schools through grade 8. Excellent! Very few students year-end scores were not beyond end of first grade. When I would ask about a student whose year-end scores were mid-first grade, the principal knew the child well enough to explain why she thought this was the case. Students relocated by the state—it interrupts school progress in these early years. There were many students whose end-of-first-grade scores were advanced--late 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and one students was 10th grade!  The significant work on grade K-3 curriculum and data use is paying off.

Materials are now received to update Greenfield’s reading program for grades K-3 using the same program in place but a newer version geared for the interactive technology we have in every classroom K-3 next year. (We have interactive SMART boards in every grade 1 to 12 classroom and we are adding Kindergarten classrooms this summer—bringing in relatively new equipment from the old high school classrooms.

After speaking with Mrs. Silk (the school secretary whose daughter just graduated from GHS with multiple awards), Principal Goodwin and I walked through the school, noticing the fantastic bulletin boards at Newton. It is worth a trip to Newton School just to look at bulletin boards!

Newton has expanded learning time (an additional 90 minutes). The youngest children do fine after a couple of weeks. Principal Goodwin has asked if she could teach keyboarding (as in piano-playing) and/or ukulele next year as an expanded learning time enrichment.  The school offers grant-funded enrichment so can offer whatever it thinks will enrich children. Seems that more students are asking for music lessons at younger ages.

Professional Development
The summer professional development schedule will be out tomorrow. I will call the state to add a scheduled training in the new educator evaluation system, depending on dates available for training. Otherwise, the last item added to the summer opportunities is a one-day program on using interactive SMART Boards, arranged by Carol Holzberg. The program is in Northampton and had openings, so Carol secured six (6) registrations for Greenfield teachers. We have approximately 170 teachers so I’m sure a few will appreciate this program.

Also on the schedule is training in the updated reading program, training in mathematics, preschool teacher training in Bee-Bots (robotics for preschoolers), and several research projects including one on understanding childhood trauma and its affects. We now need to share the schedule of opportunities so people can sign up, although I think many teachers know what has been planned for their own schools.

Someone asked today about paying teachers for professional development. Each professional with a license has to maintain his/her license through a certain number of hours of professional over a certain number of years. Some licenses are good for two years, some three years. For teachers the license is good for five years. If you don’t have a license (certificate) you cannot teach. If you don’t keep up your nursing license you can’t be a nurse. It’s each of our responsibilities to maintain our licenses we can work in our chosen profession. Same for therapists, attorneys, engineers, architects, accountants—all licensed professions. Employers  often provide (pay for) opportunities to obtain the training needed but there is no obligation to pay licensed employees to keep up their licenses.

In Greenfield, we try to give a stipend incentive to teachers if we have a need for people to attend a program they otherwise wouldn’t attend during non-work days. We generally offer some type of stipend pay teachers when we advertise for study group participation that leads to a product the district needs—a curriculum report, for example. That’s how it has been handled these past few years. Seems to have worked well. Almost always these professional development costs are covered by a grant and the amounts available in different grants varies.

A Word About Preschool
One of the preschool faculty wrote to me to say that several top-scoring Greenfield seniors this year had their education start in our Greenfield preschool—the Academy of Early Learning!!

Page last updated: September 13, 2014




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