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Blog: Wednesday, August 7, 2013

School Visits

With my entry plan complete, my evaluation process initiated, and my first full day of the M.A.S.S. new superintendent induction program under my belt, I feel at the crossroads of my own leadership journey in Leicester, ready to set new personal goals for my work this coming year. All three activities identify the need for more of my time to be spent in classrooms. I have worked with the principals to create a schedule of these visits because I learned that if I do not schedule it, "it" won't happen.

Each week I will be spending 2-3 hours in an individual school, visiting 6-8 classrooms (announced visits) for about 15 minutes each. The purpose of these visits is not for evaluation but instead is to help me understand the needs of our students, teachers, and schools. It's too easy for superintendents to lose touch with the reality of teaching and learning.

During my first day of the new superintendent induction program, we used a rubric for entry plans to improve our understanding of a successful entry process. While most of my peers were starting in their positions in July, I had started in January and had already developed a plan, collected data, and wrote up my results. I could then use the rubric to judge my completed entry plan.

Not surprisingly, the rubric revealed the need for more time in classrooms to support principals' efforts with instruction and better determine the strengths and needs of teachers and students.

As if it wasn't enough for this review to reveal this deficiency, this fact was reiterated as I began the first step of my own evaluation. This step involves using the Massachusetts Evaluation System's superintendent rubric (see this link) for a self evaluation. The first two indicators on this rubric focus on the superintendent's impact on curriculum and instruction. Under "exemplary" it reads:

  • Empowers administrators to employ strategies that empower staff to create rigorous standards-based units of instruction that are aligned across grade levels and content areas. Continually monitors and assesses progress, provides feedback, and connects administrators to additional supports as needed. Is able to model this element.
  • Supports administrators to collaborate on developing strategies that enable educators to consistently develop series of interconnected, well-structured lessons with challenging objectives and appropriate student engagement strategies, pacing, sequence, materials, and grouping and identifies specific exemplars and resources in each area. Is able to model this element.
  • While observing principal practice and artifacts, ensures that principals know and employ effective strategies and practices for helping educators improve instructional practice. Is able to model this element.
  • Sets and models high expectations for the quality of content, student effort, and student work district-wide and empowers administrators, educators and students to uphold these expectations consistently. Is able to model this element.
  • Employs strategies that ensure that principals know and consistently identify teaching strategies and practices that are meeting the needs of diverse learners while teaching their content. Is able to model this element.

Wow! To achieve such a high standard requires skill, knowledge, time, and effort. Even aiming for proficient is a challenge. Most important, no one could achieve such standards without frequent observations of instruction. While I'm certainly "not there yet," my aim is for exemplary and so my visits to schools will be most important. The principals' evaluation system requires unscheduled visits to observe their work; however I did want to make classroom visits scheduled so as to respect the fact that as the evaluation process for teachers is new and some may be apprehensive about these additional visits by the superintendent.

Do know that I am most interested in seeing the reality of life in our classrooms. Teachers should not feel the need to showcase an exemplary lesson. They should tell students I'll be dropping by but shouldn't stop the lesson for introductions. I'm most interested in the instructional core --- the interaction of curriculum, teachers, and students and would rather not disrupt that interaction, if possible. By the end of the year I am hoping to have visited each and every teacher's classroom.

Many teachers will want to know my thoughts about what I saw in the classroom even though it doesn't "count" for evaluation. For this reason, I'll provide teachers with informal feedback (not an evaluative performance rating). When I meet with the principal following my visits my focus will be on school trends rather than on individuals.

Implementing the new evaluation system in Massachusetts provides a technical challenge for us all. How many visits to classrooms provide enough evidence to administrators about that educator's practice? How long should these visits be? How can all this be accomplished in an efficient way? More importantly, this new evaluation provides a cultural shift for each and every one of us. The rubrics describe practice that is truly exemplary and is challenging for even the most talented educators to achieve. Honest use of these rubrics will reveal goals for continual improvement for both novice and experienced teachers and administrators and, as Karla Baehr reminds us, are meant to provide:

A sense of urgency about getting different results.

A sense of personal and collective efficacy.

A belief in and commitment to collective learning and action to achieve different results.

Through my work and my own evaluation I hope to show you my commitment to these ideals.

See you soon!

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 10:02 AM | 0 comments

Blog: Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Report

The school year has ended and summer provides the perfect time to reflect upon the work of the past year and plan for the work of the next. Already this summer, teachers have been working on various curriculum projects. For example, during the past two days Marilyn Tencza, our Curriculum Director, and a team of teachers have attended a state workshop focused on using the new Common Core standards to map out student expectations. Over 10 Leicester educators spent this past week in a technology course taught by our own technology teacher, Jeff Berthiaume, to hone their skills and learn to apply new ideas using technology.


What goes on in the district office and throughout our schools during the summer?

Our summer work in the district office includes a focus on our own learning as well as planning or research for both instructional and managerial improvement. Sheri Matthews, our Director of Finance and Operations, has been closing the accounts for FY13 and readying the district for FY14. Both Sheri and I are reviewing office procedures and fiscal practices, in addition to reviewing our finance policies. One improvement is focused on facility use requests. Soon the public will be able to request the use of our facilities through an online process. Our hope is to make the district run more efficiently and perhaps identify possible ideas that may ease future fiscal pressures.

Suzanne Morneau, our Administrator of Special Education, has been working on a number of projects as well. This past year the state department of education did a review of our federal programs, special education services, and other program areas and Suzanne is now following-up with policy and procedural changes to strengthen these programs and keep them in compliance with state and federal regulations.

We are also readying ourselves for full implementation of our new teacher and principal evaluation system, which must be in line with certain criteria set forth by the state. Also, as one of the second cohort of districts implementing RETELL (Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners), a portion of our teaching staff will be taking coursework on instructional practices to support English Language Learners. But our work is not just limited to compliance with new regulations. The administrative team has meetings planned to review school safety procedures, substitute calling procedures, evaluation of school staff, and supervision of maintenance operations as well as to focus on instructional improvements by analyzing our state testing results, developing an implementation plan for our new elementary math series, and investigating new interventions and supports for struggling students. We know that in many cases we are simply building upon an already solid practice. Continual improvement is our goal.

As a follow up to the Future Search event, which took place on May 31st and June 1st (click here for link to executive summary. For a 1-minute video recapping the event, go to this link.), on July 30th and 31st a planning team will meet to develop action plans for each of the goal areas identified. This set of action plans is commonly known as a strategic plan or education plan. The education plan will be presented to the School Committee for review and approval then will be made available to the public through our website. While certain staff members will be responsible for carrying out the action steps within this plan, the planning team will additionally meet 3-4 times annually to update and oversee the implementation of the plan. We also plan to annually convene a community meeting to report on progress and get input regarding each of the goal areas and for the overall educational improvement in Leicester.

Let’s not forget our civic responsibilities….

 

While planning and research will take up much of our summer time, advocacy and political involvement are also important. Teachers and administrators benefit from their state association’s monitoring of legislation that may affect the educational environment. Parents and community members likewise have town officials and their political representatives watching out for their best interests, however, we all should become familiar with current issues that may affect our schools and become politically active through communications with our legislators.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents are urging legislators to support H. 375, 459, 512 and 528 – Regulatory Relief. This bill supports the reduction of impacts of mandates on the daily functioning of schools. While the goal is not to eliminate important reform initiatives under way such as Educational Evaluations, RETELL, Common Core alignment and PARCC, it instead provides for a review of fiscal impact, duplication of effort, unnecessary and out dated mandates and potential streamlining. This House bill, in essence, resurrects the 1993 Ed Reform Act, section 93, which provided for a Regulatory Relief Commission to review and evaluate all statutes and regulations to simplify compliance and reduce regulations.I believe the passage of this bill to be in the best interest of Leicester Schools..

I also encourage you to familiarize yourself with the budget implications of a support of or rejection of the override question, which will be presented to the voters of Leicester this fall. More information about this ballot question will be provided in the next blog entry.

Leaving some room for relaxation and fun….

 

After my first half year in Leicester I am looking forward to engaging in a “staycation” for summer fun in New England. Massachusetts offers a myriad of opportunities for recreation and with friends in both Rhode Island and Maine, there are many options. I hope each of you are taking advantage of all our region has to offer.

Enjoy the summer!


Judy

Posted by Judy Paolucci | 0 comments

Blog: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Future Finances and Future Direction

Despite the advent of spring, Leicester students and teachers continue to focus on teaching and learning each and every day. Many of the learning activities planned are special; trips to Nature's Classroom, the Audubon Society, and Washington, DC are certainly not common fare. All are also looking forward to the end of year celebrations as well as to a well-deserved summer vacation. While this school year wraps up we also make plans for the next.

What's most exciting is the work we are doing to look to our future beyond the 2013-14 school year. The Leicester School Department will gather about 50-60 people representing a broad cross-section of the community to meet for two days on May 31stand June 1st to create a common vision for the district’s future.

Judy Enright, an experienced moderator and former public school administrator, will lead the discussion using a process known as Future Search. Other New England communities have made positive changes in their schools using a similar visioning process. Leicester’s Future Search will focus on the question, Recognizing the challenges and opportunities in our community, how will the Leicester schools evolve to serve our current and future students?

Business leaders, municipal officials, students, parents, school employees, and representatives from nonprofit organizations have been invited to participate in the event, which will be held at Leicester High School. Additional members of the public who would like to participate should e-mail Robin Bernard (bernardr@lpsma.net) or call her at 508-892-7040 x110 no later than May 15th. Confirmation letters will be sent to all those that can be accommodated.

The two day event will start with a session on Friday afternoon that will begin at 4:00 p.m. and end at 8:00 p.m. Dinner will be provided. Saturday’s session will begin at 8:00 a.m. and will conclude by 4:00 p.m. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided.

The timing of this process is ideal. Leicester schools have made great strides over the past several years. As demands on the schools have compounded and resources have diminished, it is crucial that we focus our efforts through a shared vision. I am excited to bring members of the community together to see what is wanted for our schools.

Fiscal planning is also ongoing for our district's future. Information about the budget options presented this month are available on the Finance Office link to the left. Understanding this process this year will take extra effort, as voters will not simply be provided with one option. All town departments were asked to come up with a budget that has a 2.5% increase in expenditures over the FY13 budget for adoption if the voters vote for an override this fall and a budget that has no increase in expenditures over the FY13 budget for adoption if the voters do not approve an override.

Any member of the public needing additional information about the level of staffing and support for our schools under each of these budget scenarios can click on the Finance Office link at the left and view the "budget options" presentation and summary. Individuals are also invited to pose their questions to me, either by sending an email or making an appointment to meet with me. Town voters are reminded that the continuance of the Town Meeting will be held at Leicester High School on May 29th at 7pm.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 11:41 AM | 0 comments

Blog: Sunday, April 7, 2013

Planning for Our Future

This month’s blog entry includes an update on the budget process as well as information about new initiatives and projects; all involve planning for our future. Rather than being comprehensive, this update focuses on only a few of the many things going on in individual schools and throughout the district.

FUTURE SEARCH

Like many similar towns, our community is challenged by restricted resources supporting ever- growing needs. As such, it is especially important to employ carefully laid plans for all aspects of school district operations – from budgeting to facilities to instructional improvements. To kick-off this planning work, we are organizing a “Future Search.” Future search is a planning meeting that brings a diverse group of people (parents, community members and educators) together to devise a common vision for the future of the schools.

The Future Search meeting will take place on the evening of May 31st and continue through the following day. Invitations, which will include details about the event, are forthcoming. Those interested can check back to the district website at the end of April. Following the Future Search, a strategic design team will develop action plans to bring our schools closer to this future vision.

BUDGET PROCESS

A preliminary budget was presented on March 19th and a follow-up budget workshop was held on April 2nd. We are now working with the town advisory board to refine our plans prior to the town meeting. For details about the preliminary budget, access the budget documents on the finance page of the district website. Additionally, look for additional updates and adjustments on the finance page in the weeks to come.

POLICY MANUAL

A subcommittee of the School Committee began work to review and refine all School Committee policies. Policy work is the backbone of the School Committee as it is through policy-making that School Committees exercise their authority as a governing body. Well-devised policies guide school employees in their everyday work. Through policy work answers to questions such as the following are considered: When, if ever, can administrators transfer funds between budget lines without School Committee approval? What is the process for registering complaints? Can students be transported in private vehicles? How do the schools notify parents about sex education? What is the schools’ policy on Facebook and social networking? Should students have a dress code? The current School Committee policy manual is available on the School Committee link on the district website. New draft policies will be posted after their first reading and before final adoption.

TECHNOLOGY

Within the next few years state testing will transform from paper booklets to online assessments. There is much work to be done to get ready for this transformation. The good news is that the work will result in technology resources that can also transform instruction for our 21st century learners.

The wiring infrastructure is the first step in this process. Although extremely important, visitors to the schools will not easily notice the changes. Adding additional computers and Smartboards would be a more visible change but without the proper infrastructure, the hardware can’t function effectively. Even without expertise in this area, anyone can look at the wiring currently in place in our middle school (click on this link to view a slideshow) and know that the current situation is not optimal.

When discussing this project I’ve twice heard the comment, “wiring isn’t very important if you are eventually going to be wireless.” Wireless networks require a wired “backbone.” Access points that send out the radio signals to wireless devices are, themselves, connected to the backbone. Our older buildings were never built to allow radio signals to easily pass between their solid walls and so this project will require a high level of expertise and planning.

We can be ready for the new assessments while only focusing on one school at a time only if we begin now.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 12:38 PM | 0 comments

Blog: Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Professional Learning

On Friday, March 15th, Leicester students slept late then went on to enjoy their free day without too much thought about what their teachers were doing for their professional learning. Many of their parents, on the other hand, may have more interest in the focus of this day. The notes I took provide a glimpse into some of the sessions offered on Friday.


"Together we Achieve More"


Leicester teachers joined their Auburn colleagues for a day of professional learning at Auburn High School. After registration and coffee, teachers filed into the auditorium for the keynote presentation.


"The Key to Success: Writing Well"


Fred Wolfe, an award-winning former educator and current presenter for Staff Development for Educators (S.D.E.), focused his presentation on the value of writing in today's world. He began by pointing out how poorly educators are trained to teach writing during their undergraduate study. At the same time, the instructional materials available in schools do not adequately provide students with good examples of effective writing.

Fred shared a powerful piece of writing by a student reporting on slavery then compared 3 passages about slavery taken from 4th, 8th, and high school textbooks. The textbook passages were simply and ineffectively written. He posits, if this is how we show good writing, it's a wonder why students are producing ineffective writing themselves.


In order to answer the question, "Is writing really that important?" Fred shared his interviews with professionals in various occupations. An engineer reported that he spent 60-70% of his time writing. An auditor reported spending 50% of her time writing and 30% of her time reviewing her team's writing.


Fred also shared some good news. Students arrive at school with a desire to write. Students can be taught to write well. Under the right circumstances, students enjoy writing. To leverage these advantages, students need to read and write every day. Students also must possess a "vision of success." Comparing writing development to the development of athletic skills, Fred noted that if all students do is to write papers then it's like athletes playing in games and not attending the practices.

At the conclusion of the presentation Fred reminded participants that all teachers should model writing. This is no different than what our athletic coaches and music teachers are doing every day.

"Six Technology Tools all Teachers Should Know About"

At 9:25 educators headed to one of 16 sessions ranging from content-specific topics to pedagical techniques to technology focused sessions. I chose Jeff Berthiaume's session, "Six Technology Tools all Teachers Should Know About."

Jeff, a Leicester High School technology teacher, shared a number of tools available through the Internet that are useful for teachers as they communicate with families, collaborate with colleagues, and engage students in the classroom.

While my attendance at this session reminded me that we are all driven to learn more about that which we are most comfortable, it was more than learning about useful technology tools that interested me; I was curious about what tools a Leicester teacher believes to be important.

Jeff started with Word Cloud, first highlighting Wordle, a popular, free, Internet application. I had used Wordle before, but not the second application Jeff shared - Tagxedo. Since we were supplied with laptops for the session, I quickly pulled up my draft budget narrative from my Dropbox folder and created a Word Cloud of my own. Including this graphic in my presentation can be powerful, as it uses words in the piece of writing to create a graphic. Words that are used repeatedly are shown in larger print. In this way, the overall message is communicated through the graphic. Not only can teachers use this tool to communicate concepts being taught, but students can as well. information Below is the graphic created:

word cloud

Jeff shared another Internet-based application, Pretzi, which allows you to import a PowerPoint and " snazz it up." Not only is the resulting presentation more visually appealing, but the format itself maps out the information, rather than presenting it linearly. It's very difficult to describe and is easier understood through a visit to the Pretzi website.

While everyone is familiar with Google searches, Jeff reminded us that we need to teach our students how to search more effectively. When searching Google images, additional search tools allow you to search by image size and other means. Google trends will show you how many times that item has been searched.

I was not already familiar with the next tool Jeff shared, 1DollarScan. You can mail this service a book and they will do a high quality scan of the book or a portion of the book then will email their scan to you. We had a general discussion of copyright laws for teachers, a subject that needs a yearly review. After you create your scan of your book you can go to another site, online-convert.com, which will convert a pdf to a Word document.

Amazon cloud reader allows subscribers to read any of the books that are on a Kindle on any device connected to the Internet. Combining the reader with another application, reflectorapp.com, available for $12, allows a person to stream what's displayed on an iPad screen to a computer attached to a projector.

"Everything you Need to Know About 51As"

Like for the first breakout session, several of the 16 choices offered at 11am interested me. Being new to Massachusetts, the session focused on the reporting of abuse and neglect was perhaps the most pertinant. Eileen Hillis, Investigation Supervisor from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) focused on the process for 51A reporting of abuse and neglect as well as the response expected from DCF investigators.

Like physicians, police officers, and others, educators are considered mandated reporters and are required to immediately report to DCF and assist in the subsequent investigation, when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected. A guide for mandated reporters and a sample reporting form was distributed and explained. Participants also had the opportunity to ask questions relating to both actual and contrived situations.

"Recharge"

Lunch provided a time for Auburn and Leicester educators to network and recharge. Conversations most often included compliments about the day's organization and the quality of the presentations as well as laments about not being able to attend multiple sessions at the same time.

"Transforming the Middle School Classroom with iPads"

Choosing from the 21 offerings beginning at 1:30 was even more difficult than for earlier blocks as I knew that I had to leave at 2pm to return to the office to attend to a couple of issues before the end of the work day. I knew I could glean some tidbits from the first half hour Chris Toy's presentation on iPads. Over the last year of my tenure in Maine I heard much debate about the value of laptops vs. tablets as many believe that the tablet is a better media consumption tool than a production tool. I was hoping to gain more experience with the application of iPads in the classroom to make a more informed, personal judgement on this debate.

Chris Toy asked participants, "What year are you preparing your students for?" and provided examples of jobs that require expertise in the use of social media and other technology tools. He then went on to share a video clip prepared with the web-based application, extranormal.com. Teachers can use this tool to create animation to engage students with a concept while students can use the tool to demonstrate their learning of a concept.

I left as Chris began to share an iPad application, Dragon Dictation. While a half hour of Chris's presentation probably didn't make much of an impact on my thoughts about the relative values of tablets and laptops, typing my notes on my own iPad made me realize that although Im not yet comfortable with the work flow using my iPad, it is for me becoming more of a tool for productivity than it was when it was first introduced.

"Together we Achieve More"

Indeed, the professional development day, planned collaboratively with Auburn Schools, achieved more than what could have been accomplished alone. A special thanks go to Marilyn Tencza, our Curriculum Director; the PD day organizers from Auburn; our administrative team, and presenters from both Leicester and Auburn who made this day possible.

Posted by Judy Paolucci at 12:57 PM | 0 comments

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