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Blog: Saturday, September 19, 2015

Prevent, Prepare, Respond, Recover

Leicester Schools’ vision, “Recognized by the community as its greatest asset, the Leicester Schools engage every child in rigorous and student-centered learning in a safe and technology-rich environment” can only be realized if we attend to each facet of the statement. I’ve discussed rigor and technology in previous blog posts and would be remiss if I neglected to address safety. Sometimes the extent of the work of our administrative team and staff behind the scenes is not well understood by parents and towns people. I hope that this particular blog entry provides a glimpse into the very important work we are doing to ensure that Leicester Schools are safe places to work and learn.

Our governor’s school safety task force developed are port that provides guidance on actions that districts can make “to prevent, prepare and respond to, as well as recover from an emergency.’ The emergency management cycle, prevent-prepare-respond-recover, provides a framework that is used nationally to ensure that entities consider all aspects of safety planning. Excerpts from that plan are included in this blog. Developing plans, training staff on various protocols, investing in locks and security systems, and other efforts all contribute toward reducing risks that are prevalent in today’s society.

The PREVENT phase aims to avoid the occurrence of incidents or lessen the harm done by unavoidable incidents.

At the spring Town Meeting, Leicester residents voted to support facilities projects that included door hardware replacement and magnetic door closers. A grant secured by the school and police departments recently added additional cameras at the high school. These are both preventative measures. More importantly, the greatest preventative measure a school can make is through relationships. Our small school sizes provide environments where every child is known. Conversations about alternatives to suspension are aimed to reengage students who make poor decisions, rather than furthering the divide. Responsive Classroom techniques in grades PK-5 develop strong classroom cultures but also beg the question about how this work could continue through middle and high school.

The PREPARE phase is the process of preparing for incidents. Effective preparedness requires planning for worst-case scenarios. It involves a continuous cycle of planning, practicing, and evaluating actions aimed at effective response to an incident.

Fire drills are perhaps the longest standing protocol developed and practiced by schools but there are many others as well that should be established and practiced regularly. A medical emergency response plan was due to the state on September 1st. The plan includes a list of staff who are CPR trained. The locations of our AEDs, the response time of EMS to our schools, and steps to take in case of a medical emergency. Other protocols have been written and shared with staff for lock downs, stay-in-place, bomb threats, and other responses. Establishing systems for sharing the protocols with staff and practicing protocols are and will always be a work in progress as we learn more about which practices are the most effective. Recently, staff learned about“A.L.I.C.E,” an acronym for Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. The objective of the protocol is to increase students’ and staff’s chance of survival during an incident involving an active shooter or violent intruder. We are developing a plan to share these ideas with students and families once all staff have been trained.

The RESPOND phase includes the steps taken to minimize harm to people and property during a particular incident. Its focus is on the short-term, direct effects of an incident and requires tight coordination and rapid action among all participants. This includes executing the emergency plans developed and practiced in the Prepare phase.

The last two phases of the cycle will hopefully never have to be utilized, however, planning for them is an ongoing enterprise. Working closely with our police and fire departments, practicing protocols, and developing plans will help us to respond appropriately and effectively should an incident occur.

The RECOVER phase is concerned with restoring the learning and teaching environment after an incident. It is the process of mending the physical and psychological health of school community members, as well as restoring its physical facilities to re-establish a positive learning environment.

Last year we established a district crisis team, consisting of administrators, nurses, school psychologists, emergency responders, and local clergy, to meet regularly to develop protocols ensuring that the community is supported during the recovery phase of a critical incident, should one occur. To be clear, critical incidents include natural disasters and events outside of the school environment in addition to violent actions during the school day. Our district crisis team is not a list of people on a piece of paper but is a team of caring individuals who are poised to come together to provide specific support after a critical incident. We have a written agreement with neighboring districts to share psychologists and counselors so that our community will have more support than it could possibly provide on its own. One of our school psychologists, Ashley Niggl, attended train-the-trainer PREPaRE training this summer and will be training administrators, nurses, and counselors at the end of October. The PREPaRE curriculum was developed by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and is focused on strengthening school safety and crisis management plans and response.

It is scary to think about the incidents that have occurred in other communities and impossible to eliminate all risks to our own schools but through the work we are doing in Leicester schools, we can do the best that we can for the most important asset of our community – our children.

Reference: Massachusetts Task Force Report on School Safety and Security.(2014). Available online (http://www.mass.gov/edu/docs/eoe/school-safety-security/school-safety-report.pdf)

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 8:12 AM|0 comments

Blog: Monday, September 7, 2015

Technology Learning * Technology for Learning

Leciester has turned a corner at a major intersection on it’s quest for technology integration. We have started this new school year for the first time having all four schools with wifi access throughout and having double to quadruple the number of devices available for students and teachers. At this juncture, it’s particularly important to keep our eyes on our goal so that the investments that have been made go to good use.

In today’s world, technology is integrated into both our social and work lives. Navigating social networks, communicated using technology, and even troubleshooting technology are and will be difficult to circumvent, whether we choose to be doctors, waiters, truck drivers, engineers, or pastry chefs. In and out of schools, technology will be a valuable tool for learning.

Foremost in our work with technology in schools, we must work to help students stay safe and be responsible using technology. This must be taught explicitly. Children do not always see the adults around them, including their favorite celebrities, using technology responsibly. There are a few places in the instructional program where this is part of the curriculum and like all curriculum, it needs periodic review to ensure that it is sufficient to achieve our goal – in this case, to ensure safe and responsible technology use.

Our district’s technology acceptable use policy, rather than simply echoing a model policy provided by the state and listing dos and don’ts, communicates expectations categorized into three main areas: (1) consistency with the district’s mission, (2), respect for personal safety and privacy, and (3) respect for public laws and academic property rights. Moreover, we have shifted our philosophy about how we protect students from a over reliance on filtering to a strategy that includes filtering software, supervision, digital citizenship training, and disciplinary action.

Another challenge when integrating technology is to maximize the impact of technology on learning. Adopters of educational technology often follow a progression of using technology that a model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura so eloquently describes. The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model depicts a continuum from less impactful technology use to use that has greater impact. In Substitution, teachers may use technology as a substitute for a non-technology function. Using a PowerPoint instead of writing notes on the board is an example ofSubstitution. The teacher is still the center of the classroom and the students are passive learners. Substitution isn’t bad, necessarily; it’s usually the first step toward more effective use of technology in the classroom.

In Augmentation, the technology provides a functional benefit. Perhaps there’s an engaging video embedded in the PowerPoint or students take an assessment online and the data can be more effectively analyzed by the teacher.

Once teachers and students cross the line between Substitution and Augmentation and Modification, a significant functional change in the learning environment occurs. Through Modification, technology is requiredfor the lesson. Perhaps, student writing is for an authentic audience or the work product is multi-media. Redefinition takes this one step further;Redefinition involves a total resign of what we ask students to do to learn and to demonstrate their learning.

April’s blog entry focused on our vision for technology use in Leicester. We have a ways to go to achieve this vision and teachers are working hard to adjust their practices as new technology resources are obtained. Learning a new student information system mid-year will add yet another challenge but is necessary in order to improve data security. The explosion of Twitter and Facebook to communicate school events has been exciting but challenging as well, as the community increases its expectation of timely information of school happenings. Our team here in Leicester– its administrators, teachers, and staff – in service of the students and families we serve, have embraced the challenges and opportunities that changes in technology have brought to our schools

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 9:14 AM|0 comments

Blog: Sunday, August 23, 2015

Getting Back Into the Swing

I took the summer off from blogging but as I sit at the computer now, I regret that decision. Whether it is writing or reading or exercising or getting up early, once a habit is established, taking a break from the habit makes it difficult to be re-established.

We encourage students to read throughout the summer because we know that it makes it easier for these students to continue to progress, rather than backsliding through June, July, and August. We also know, though, that families challenge their children intellectually and physically in various other ways. Visits to museums, beaches, camps, and travels to other states enrich vocabulary and knowledge while concurrently building strong relationships among family members.

Whatever students (and educators too!) did this summer, effort will have to be made to establish good habits this school year. A regular bed time, a place to do homework, limits on electronic use, leaving enough time in the morning to get to school on time, and other good practices, once established, make life easier, even though getting there can be painful. Lucky for us, the challenge of starting a new school year is balanced by the joy of reconnecting with friends, families, and colleagues.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 8:52 AM|0 comments

Blog EntryBlog: Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Message to the Class of 2015

Parents, honored guests, faculty, friends, and graduates of Leicester High School’s class of 2015. It is an honor to be here today at your commencement. Finding the right words was a challenge and so I settled on finding the right songs.

Many of you will never remember who spoke at your high school graduation and I challenge you to ask your parents who spoke at theirs. You will, however, remember the music that played over your high school years. In fact, according to a psychologist from UC Davis, music and memories are integrated in the brain and music actually evokes memory. Moreover, this research suggests that this connection is strongest over our teenage years.1 This might be the reason why every generation thinks that the music heard during their youth is the best music ever.

Some of those gathered here today may have been teenagers in the 70’s and 80’s and might want to say to you, “So bring your good times and your laughter too. We gonna celebrate your party with you.”2 It was fun doing a little research, looking for bits of advice for our graduates in the songs of the past, but, admittedly, I discovered an abundance of “silly love songs,”3 anguishes over lost loves, and charges to “do the twist,”4 “do the mashed potatoes”5 and “dance the night away.”6 Among the chatter I found three themes worthy of a graduation address: being yourself, showing resiliency, and pursuing purpose and passion.

Be and find joy in being yourself. Your parents heard some of the same advice when they were young. Billy Joel, in 1977, sang: “I don't want clever conversation; I never want to work that hard; I just want someone that I can talk to;I want you just the way you are.”7 Sounds quite a lot like Meghan Trainor’s refrain, “If you got beauty, beauty, just raise 'em up;'Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”8 and John Legend’s “Love your curves and all your edges; All your perfect imperfections.”9 Graduates, take Taylor Swift’s advice to “dance [sic] on your own” and when others don’t like it, “just shake it off.”10

Being yourself doesn’t guarantee success so when you encounter a challenge, you’ll need resilience to move forward. In 1978, Gloria Gaynor sang, “I've got all my life to live;I've got all my love to give;and I'll survive; I will survive (hey-hey)”11 Thirty-three years later, Kelly Clarkson sings, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger”12 and the Script chant, “You can throw your hands up; You can beat the clock (yeah); You can move a mountain; You can break rocks; You can be a master; Don't wait for luck.”13 Mariah Carey echos this sentiment with: “And then a hero comes along; With the strength to carry on; And you cast your fears aside; And you know you can survive; So when you feel like hope is gone; Look inside you and be strong;”14

If you go through life with both integrity and resilience, you’ll also want to find purpose and passion. No one, no less Dolly Parton, finds joy “Workin' 9 to 5; What a way to make a livin.”15 The theme for Rocky, performed by Survivor over 30 years ago, reminds us, “So many times it happens too fast; You trade your passion for glory;Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past; You must fight just to keep them alive; (It's the eye of the tiger; It's the thrill of the fight.)”16 If finding your passion keeps you up at night, you’re not alone. One republic chants, “Lately I've been, I've been losing sleep;Dreaming about the things that we could be.”17 Katy Perry, upon finding her passion asserts, “I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath; Scared to rock the boat and make a mess…. I went from zero, to my own hero.”18

Tonight, graduates, “you [sic] are young; So set the world on fire;

You [sic] can burn brighter than the sun.”19 “Welcome to your life; There's no turning back.”20Choose the right lyrics to live your lives, be yourself, practice resilience, and pursue your passion.

1Janata, P., Tomic, S. T., & Rakowski, S. K. (2007).Characterization of music-evoked autobiographical memories. Memory, 15(8), 845–860.

2Bell, R., Smith, C., Brown, G., Taylor, J., Mickens, R., Toon, E., Thomas, D, Bell, R.E., & Deodato, E. (1980). Celebration [Recorded by Kool and the Gang]. On Celebrate! [record]. New York: The Island Def Jam Music Group.

3McCartney, P., McCartney, L. (1976). Silly Love Songs [Recorded by Wings]. On Wings at the Speed of Sound [record]. New York: MPL Communications/Capitol.

4Ballard, H. (1960). The Twist [Recorded by Chubby Checker]. On Twist with Chubby Checker [record]. New York: Parkway Records, Inc.

5Rozier, D. (1959). (Do the) Mashed Potatoes [Recorded by Nat Kendrick and the Swans (sung by James Brown)]. On (Do the) Mashed Potatoes [record]. Miami: Dade Records.

6Van Halen, E., Van Halen, A., Anthony, M. Roth, D. (1979). Dance the Night Away [Recorded by Van Halen]. On Van Halen II [record]. New York: Warner Brothers.

7Joel, B. (1977). Just the Way You Are [Recorded by Billy Joel]. On The Stranger [record]. New York: Columbia.

8Trainor, M. & Kadish, K. (2014). All About That Bass [Recorded by Meghan Trainor] on Title [CD]. Nolensville, TN: Carriage House Studios.

9Stephens, J. & Gad, T. (2013). All of Me [Recorded by John Legend] on Love in the Future [CD]. New York: Good Music.

10Swift, T., Martin, M., & Shellback. (2014). Shake it Off [Recorded by Taylor Swift] on 1989 [CD]. Nashville: Big Machine.

11Perren, F., & Fekaris, D. (1978). I Will Survive [Recorded by Gloria Gaynor] on Love Tracks [record]. London: Polydor.

12Elofsson, J., Gamson, D., Kurstin, G., Tamposi, A. (2012). Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) [Recorded by Kelley Clarkson] on Stronger [CD]. New York: RCA.

13O’Donoghue, D., Sheehan, M., & Barry, J. (2012). Hall of Fame [Recorded by the Script] on #3 [CD]. New York: Epic.

14Carey, M., & Afanasieff, W. (1993). Hero [Recorded by Mariah Carey] on Music Box [CD]. New York: Columbia.

15Parton, D. (1980). 9 to 5 [Recorded by Dolly Parton] on 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs [record]. Nashville: RCA Nashville.

16Sullivan, F., Peterik, J. (1982). Eye of the Tiger [Recorded by Survivor] on Eye of the Tiger [record]. Nashville: EMI.

17Tedder, R. (2013). Counting Stars [Recorded by OneRepublic] on Native [CD]. Miami: Mosley.

18Perry, K., Gottwald, L., Martin, M., McKee, B., & Walter, H. (2013). Roar [Recorded by Katy Perry] on Prism [CD]. New York: Capitol.

19Ruess, N., Dost, A., Antonoff, J., & Bhasker, J. (2011). We Are Young [Recorded by Fun] on Some Nights [digital download]. New York: Jungle City Studios and Los Angeles: Village Recorder.

20Orzabal, R., Stanley, I., & Hughes, C. (1985). Everybody Wants to Rule the World [Recorded by Tears for Fears] on Songs From the Big Chair [record]. Chicago: Mercury Records.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 10:17 AM|0 comments

Blog: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Science and Technology/Engineering

Today I testified before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding the draft, revised Science and Technology/Engineering standards. Because we have a improvement mindset here in Leicester, we've been "chomping at the bit" for science. Without final adoption, it's difficult to commit to changing curriculum, instructional materials, and approach. After nearly 6 years of development, it's time to either adopt the new standards and begin concentrating on how to do it well or stick with what we now have and work on doing it better. Below are the contents of my testimony:

As a former National Board certified, secondary science teacher with a doctorate focused on science education; a district leader; and a member of ESE’s STEM Advisory Council; I testify today in support of the adoption of the revised Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards. I will not be speaking about the individual standards, the sequence, or the level or rigor. I am confident that you will have more than enough input in those areas. In fact, my experience in the field of science has led me to conclude that you might never achieve complete agreement on what is most important; individual scientists are passionate about their individual interests so I hope you don’t wait for consensus for a decision. My testimony, instead, focuses on three relevant conditions associated with these new standards: (1) An inquiry-based approach, (2) Connection to the Adoption of the Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy Frameworks, and (3) Timeliness.

  1. Inquiry-based. I have served as a central office administrator in both Rhode Island and Maine and can say, with some certainty, that Massachusetts educators attend to the alignment of their instruction with the state adopted frameworks and standards in far greater degree than their peers in other states. This may be due to the state testing program or to their professionalism or to a climate of compliance. Whatever the case, since the new standards are grounded in an inquiry-based approach and the old standards are not, we can expect to see a shift toward inquiry-based science education after adoption of these standards. The current approach in most Massachusetts classrooms is not inquiry-based, despite the fact that the educational research shows inquiry-based science as being better at developing student understanding of science concepts and student interest in STEM careers. We are sure to see improvements in student understanding of science concepts and student interest in STEM careers through adoption of these standards.
  2. Connection to the Adoption of the Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy Frameworks. Massachusetts educators continue to grow in confidence and success with the Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy Frameworks. As the revised Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards provide explicit connections to these frameworks, these new standards ensure that science and technology/engineering provide a strong context for students’ mathematics and literacy learning. Massachusetts educators are not left finding these connections on their own, so integration of mathematics and literacy skills in science and technology/engineering instruction can be ensured. We are sure to see improvements in mathematics and literacy through adoption of these standards.
  3. Timeliness. The time is ripe to adopt the Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released over two years ago. Less than a month later, on May 23, 2013, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to adopt the NGSS. Since that time, my colleagues at the University of Rhode Island have supported the development of district curriculum, the adoption of specific instructional materials, and the professional development of teachers to teach to these new standards. It is time for Massachusetts to replace its outdated standards before others push too far ahead. Additionally, our teachers now have greater confidence in their understanding and implementation of the 2011 mathematics and ELA frameworks and are in a good place to adopt the new science standards while integrating math and literacy learning. Despite the encouragement of DESE for districts to begin using the new standards, most teachers and districts are reticent to get too far into this work before final adoption.
In short, the time is now to adopt the draft, revised Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards so that districts and teachers will move forward to increase inquiry-based science teaching, improve student understanding of important science content, encourage interest in STEM careers, and maintain our high ranking as the educational leader among all 50 states.

For a link to the new standards, click here.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 2:53 PM|0 comments

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