HATE SPEECH, CITIZENSHIP AND LITERACY/ THE LANE AND DAVIS BUILDING PROJECTS: A BUSY NEW SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS
As August turned to September, an energized faculty entered buildings thoroughly prepared by our custodial, maintenance, computer technical and clerical staff, and anticipated the advent of over 2600 students by readying their rooms, reviewing their curricula, and finalizing their lesson plans. The work of the year ahead, complex, varied, and tailored to the multiplicity of needs of the many children before us, was nevertheless framed during the opening days around key instructional priorities for the next several years.
KEY K-12 FOCUS
Recognizing the rise of hate speech and intolerance that this summer we saw splashed across our news media, the importance of making sure that all of our students feel safe formed an important starting point for the District's back to school message. Embracing the democratic mission of public schools, particularly the promotion of equity and the development of independently thinking, thoughtful and socially aware future citizens, our schools take seriously the challenge of strengthening our students' literacy skills- their ability to independently distinguish between fake and real news, discern credible sources, and derive meaning from complex texts.
While Bedford is pleased with our high rankings in Boston Magazine and Niche.com, we recognize that too many of our struggling readers find it difficult to read complex non-fiction, and that even many of our stronger middle and high school achievers are not adept at doing so independently. This is one of the ubiquitous realities that the Common Core seeks to address, and for us it represents a conscious honing of the Bedford Public Schools' longstanding focus on developing our students' complex thinking skills. To make significant progress, we have come to recognize that responsibility for strengthening students' literacy cannot be relegated to the elementary grades alone, but must be integrated into the thinking skills and content learning that take place in the upper grades. There it must develop in conjunction with our students' learning how to think like historians, like scientists, like mathematicians or literary critics. While our work will come to focus on strengthening writing, listening and speaking as well, our starting point is reading comprehension.
As we key in on literacy, we are simultaneously working to help all students take responsibility for their learning by engaging them in regular goal setting, curation of their own work, and active reflection on their progress. While this metacognitive learning is valuable in itself, it is also a critical motivator for students who may find the perseverance needed to make significant progress in reading comprehension difficult to sustain.
Finally, we are integrating technology to support these two objectives in a number of ways, but two that will be particularly apparent in all four schools include: 1) using a variety of devices and the internet to support research projects and what we call "just in time" research, which includes both planned and spontaneous classroom inquiries where students search out answers to questions that come up in class or pursue individual interests to enhance a lesson; and 2) students developing digital portfolios of their work and their learning reflections. For this latter endeavor, we hope to leverage adolescent, and even younger, students' out-of-school digital literacy both to deepen their engagement in their portfolio work and to nurture an awareness of their learning processes just as they have a heightened awareness of their social identities.
Helping all of our students learn to make sense of complex text, particularly non-fiction, is central to our mission of preparing students for college and career. But also, I believe that literacy in its fullest sense is critical for a healthy democracy, and it is, at its heart, an issue of equity. Without the ability to be critical and independent consumers of complex information, to be able to draw inferences, to evaluate sources and to support arguments with evidence, our future citizens will have to depend upon others to make sense of the world. Without sufficient background knowledge and the analytical know-how to distinguish fact from fiction, platitudes from policies, or data-derived positions from dogma and demagoguery from anywhere on the political spectrum, each generation's creative potential to solve society's problems will be severely curtailed.
Happily, we opened the Lane School this September having completed the building portion of the addition/renovation both on time and on budget. New England Builders, our general contractor, offered to pay for a party for all Lane families, replete with bouncy house and ice cream, to commemorate the opening of the new wing. Hats off to our entire team, our facilities department, TBA architects, the town boards for their support, and of course the Lane School Building Committee, the Lane School principal, and the school committee for all of their input, expertise, confidence and recognition of need. The parking lot reconfiguration and expansion will be completed next summer, and fortunately the over $300,000 in unspent contingency funds will pay for the majority of that project.
Meanwhile, after months of diligent examination of 15 different options, the Davis School Building Committee recommended to the school committee that we move the four integrated pre-school classrooms presently housed at BHS to an expanded new wing at Davis (which should obviate the need for adding square footage at the high school), and add another seven rooms there to accommodate Davis School enrollment and program driven needs. Please visit our website at www.bedfordps.org to view the Davis School Building Committee Report and the Davis School Building Addition Powerpoint Presentation.