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Tuesday, April 23, 2019


PORTRAIT OF THE BEDFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS GRADUATE:
PHASE ONE OF OUR 2020-2025 STRATEGIC PLAN
AN INVITATION

What do we as a school community want all of our students to know, understand and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school?  What should inform this vision of our graduates, and how should teaching and learning be designed to make this happen?

These are important questions that educators ask on a continuing basis.  The answers guide decisions regarding school organization, pedagogy, curricular and extracurricular opportunities, and the allocation of resources.  They go to the heart of what all Bedford Public School children experience on a daily basis in their classrooms and extra-curricular activities in all four schools.

But periodically, we need to ask these questions in a more formal and inclusive manner.  We need to reflect on whether we are acting on the most informed answers to these questions for today’s graduates.  And, we need to consider the needs of children who, having entered kindergarten this year, will graduate in the year 2031.

Since our last strategic planning process concluded in 2012, these decisions have been guided by the following Vision Statement: The Bedford Public Schools develops skillful, reflective, lifelong learners who think critically and creatively and who are informed, responsible, and productive global citizens. The school community provides a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment in which the unique intellectual, social, ethical, and emotional growth of each learner is realized.  Accordingly, we have annually developed a set of strategic initiatives aimed at achieving this vision.

This vision derives from the belief that many of today’s societal challenges exist because schooling for too long was not only inequitable, but was also predominantly a passive process of absorbing information.  Accordingly, and because tomorrow is, in large measure, already here today, the Bedford Public Schools has focused for years on changing teaching and learning into a student-active process of developing complex thinking capabilities, and on closing achievement gaps.  For these reasons, certain student outcomes, for example, the ability to view problems analytically and to solve problems creatively, to comprehend complex texts independently, to communicate effectively, to learn with and from others, to be adept with technology, to be reflective and open minded… presently guide our work and will continue to moving forward.

Yet it is time once again to take a more comprehensive look at what our students will need as they come of age in a world of wondrous opportunities and daunting challenges:

      a technological universe that is expanding exponentially, that holds the promise to solve so many social, economic and environmental problems, of creating new forms of art and music, while also threatening to replace interpersonal communication with digital depersonalization, manual and mental labor with robots and AI, and privacy with an ever growing sharing of our personal information;

     the pressing demands of democratic citizenship enriched by diversity in a demographically changing nation, yet still riven by racial, economic and other disparities;

     a shrinking and increasingly interconnected world capable of creating solutions to environmental crises and world health issues, and able to share advances in biotech, nanotech, DNA editing; yet torn by tribal, religious, development and economic resource divisions, and lacking clear and shared ethical guidelines for scientific advances that will challenge what it means to be human; and

     new ideas as well as continuing debates about teaching and learning and how to best prepare all students for citizenship, college and/or career, and a life of continual learning, meaning and fulfillment.

To develop the Bedford Public Schools’ next five-year strategic plan, we are inviting the community to participate in a comprehensive, deliberative process that will begin by creating a Portrait of the Graduate that will emerge from a collaborative process of research and reflection.   The Portrait will describe the core competencies and literacies that all students should have (knowledge, understandings, skills and dispositions) upon graduation.  Once completed,  the Portrait of the Graduate will guide a backwards planning process to identify the key features of school organization, curriculum, instruction and assessment that will be needed to ensure that all students graduate with these skills, understandings and dispositions.

The Portrait of the Bedford Public Schools Graduate committee will be composed of parents, teachers, administrators, students and community members, and will meet once monthly (full day meetings) between May and November (excluding the summer months as well as October).  A draft of the Portrait competencies will be shared with the broader community for feedback and will then be finalized at the November meeting.  The Strategic Planning committee will then meet between December and April to complete the second phase.

If you are interested in participating on the Portrait of the Bedford Public Schools Graduate committee, please click on the following link and, by May 1, let us know. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeONXq9NyWmotX3ScBeg8ETQSaRb63-dhKA7NARcR7zacO5sg/viewform?usp=sf_link

Sincerely,

Jon
Jon Sills, Superintendent
Bedford Public Schools





Monday, January 28, 2019

January Professional Development in Bedford


This year, January's full-day professional development was a building-based combination of theory and practice, with a variety of opportunities all connected to equity and teaching all students. Educators in all four buildings were energized and engaged, and came away with perspectives, skills and knowledge that will benefit all students. Here are a few highlights from each building:

BHS: High School educators focused on equity using an EdCamp format in which teachers, and in this case students as well, run workshop sessions for other teachers. There was a variety of offerings, including "Restorative Justice Circles"; "Unpacking the Themes of Fiddler on the Roof and the Importance of Having Courageous Conversations," co- facilitated by teacher and student; "The Trauma Sensitive Classroom"; "Navigating Bedford Public Schools as a Student in the METCO Program," co-facilitated by Superintendent Sills and two students; "Exploring High School Life through the Lens of Student from a Military family," which included a panel discussion by students.

24 students participated, and the sessions were all very well received by faculty, with many wishing the sessions were longer or there were more of them. It is clearly a model that works well and will be developed further.

JGMS: In the morning Middle School educators participated in Keys to Literacy training focused on comprehension and note-taking using work educators have been doing since the fall.  Faculty members broke into departments in the afternoon to coordinate their implementation in greater detail across grade levels and subject areas. The afternoon sessions were led by teacher-coaches who have participated in additional training in the Keys approach to literacy. Plans are underway to assess the effectiveness of the Keys implementation and refine it moving forward.

Lane School: Lane School faculty began the day with a keynote presentation from Superintendent Jon Sills focused on equity and how it integrates into all our work with students, their families, and the larger Bedford community. Jon talked personally about how he became involved in and committed to this work and integrated questions from the faculty. Faculty moved from that address to discuss what they value as educators, and connected those values as they met in smaller groups to collaborate on addressing difficult conversations with students through various school scenarios faculty had negotiated this year.

Faculty moved from those scenarios to school-wide behavior expectations supported by their work in Responsive Classroom. After lunch they heard from METCO assistant director Kristen Johnson about her experiences as a METCO student, along with reflections on what she has observed in her early months in Bedford. Teachers went on to complete an exercise helping them to identify which students are connected, both to other students and to faculty, and which are not, because we know students must be connected to the community in order to learn and thrive.

Davis School
: Davis School classroom teachers worked in vertical teams (teams with representatives from each of the three grade levels, K-2) to analyze and reflect upon reading data over time for current fourth grade students. Taking this longer view enabled them to move beyond individual students to the reading instructional practices that have been in place now for four years. These practices are connected to the Fountas and Pinnell reading benchmark assessment system now in place through grade 5. Because the data was disaggregated by sub group (such as special education, or traditionally underserved groups), it allowed educators to have deeper conversations about student growth and achievement in reading and how that is connected to instructional practice.

Team leaders will return to the leadership group with their observations and findings, which will help to inform the school improvement plan and professional development for the 2019-2020 school year.

MLS


Friday, January 11, 2019


CONFRONTING RACISM: WHAT BEDFORD’S SCHOOLS DO WELL AND WHERE WE NEED TO GROW
PART I

Being an excellent school district means far more than MCAS scores, caring teachers,  a deep and rich curriculum, extensive extra-curricular opportunities, or competitive college acceptances.  It means as well that we successfully support our students’ socially and emotionally, and that we teach all students to think deeply, analytically and creatively, and that we prepare them to live in a highly diverse society.  It also means that we ensure that all students matter,   feel safe to take intellectual risks and realize their full potentials.  In a society still riven by racism, this means removing the obstacles to achievement and belonging that unexamined practices and unintentional biases impose.

When the Bedford Public Schools volunteered in 1974 to become a METCO district, the community clearly expressed its sense of responsibility to provide equal opportunity to Boston students of color and exposure to diversity for resident white students.  However, it is only in the past seven or eight years that we have made educational equity and closing achievement gaps key systemic priorities within the district.  At the same time, our resident population has grown considerably more diverse so that our student population is over 33% students of color. 

The work that we have been doing to close achievement gaps and to diminish the racial divide have made a real difference in many students’ experiences.  The number of METCO alumni who have worked, or have shown an interest in working, in the schools is just one indicator of this impact. But unfortunately, many of our students still feel that they are viewed as “other” by both peers and adults.  This reality challenges us to dig deeper to change mindsets and develop the skills required to bring about this deeper cultural change.   This two-part message describes the steps we’ve been taking, and where we need to go from here.

Contractually Required Anti-racism Teacher Course
Beginning about 20 years ago, the district began to contractually require all newly hired teachers to take an anti-racism course, and about 10 years ago, the district also conducted an analysis of data that revealed equity gaps in MCAS results, representation in high honors and AP classes and participation in extra-curricular activities other than athletics.  

Prioritizing, Embedding and Taking Action
The high school took steps about 15 years ago to organizationally imbed this work, for example, by:
  • Creating a faculty and student Educational Equity Committee 
  • Holding annual student run assemblies celebrating Black History month, multi-cultural talent shows, and overnight retreats bringing Boston, Base and Bedford students together
  • Holding an all school assembly featuring a local police office and a METCO student following an incident where the officer had physically subdued the student
  • Showing a videotaped METCO alumni panel discussion to faculty
  • Instituting our EXCEL program to academically support students moving into higher level academic classes for the first time, and
  • Creating the inter-district Tenacity Challenge to give African American and Latino/a students an annual opportunity to compete in four areas: historical research, literary analysis, artistic expression and math and science learning. (6 minute video at www.tenacitychallenge.com )
District Prioritizes and Institutionalizes the Work Across All Four Schools
During the past seven years, the whole district has focused on closing the equity gaps that result from structural inequalities and that are perpetuated both by stereotypical thinking and implicit bias.  Achieving equity has been one of our three or four annual strategic district goals, and a district-wide Equity and Diversity Committee comprised of teachers, counselors and administrators has generated:
  • · Full-day professional development workshops in cultural proficiency and difficult conversations about race 
  • K-12 literature audits and lesson planning around new titles by authors who are racially diverse
  • the establishment of our Interracial Parent Advisory Council, and
  • an outreach campaign to teacher training graduate programs to recruit more educators of color.   

 This work has been accompanied by:
  • a host of teacher generated initiatives inside and outside the classroom, for example:


o   an overnight hiking trip for a group of METCO and resident student 5th graders, and an interracial lunch group at JGMS
o   support for student initiatives like the Chain Reaction committee at JGMS, and
o   teacher-led anti-racism workshops during our annual professional development EdCamps
  • the addition of a middle school Tenacity Challenge

o   over 120 faculty, staff, alumni and community members volunteer to support the high school and the middle school Challenges that impact about 250 African-American and Latino/a students annually,
  • our Calculus Projects to prepare African-American and Latino/a students to take calculus,
  • major changes to the middle school social studies curriculum (civics and Facing History and Ourselves Civil Rights) and beginning changes to the high school curriculum,
  •  including the Teaching Tolerance curriculum for morning circle at Davis with accompanying assemblies, and
  •  transparent communication around racist and anti-Semitic incidents.
 Yet So Much Still To Do
Despite this work, equity gaps persist, and many of our students of color still feel that they are the “other” in our schools.  Some of our white students express confusion over hearing some of their African-American students using the “N” word.  Hurtful comments, sometimes offered in jest, tap into a history of such hurts.  Well-intended “colorblind” perspectives held by some teachers prevent them from developing genuine cultural proficiency, or from truly getting to know their individual students of color.  Examples of disproportionate responses persist. 

In the next installment of this series on racism and the public schools, I will share the important understandings and action steps that this latest round of reflection and analysis, precipitated by recent incidents, have yielded.   The next installment: The Way Forward.

 JS

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bedford Educators: Professional Development on Election Day


As adults were heading to the polls, educators in Bedford engaged in a wide variety of professional development across the district on November 6th. The work was building-based, all connected in various ways to building and district priorities.

Educators at Bedford High School began orientation to the 3-year Challenge Success project. Challenge Success, an independent non-profit organization affiliated with Stanford Graduate School of Education, partners with schools and families to identify and implement strategies that “decrease student stress, improve social and emotional health, and promote academic engagement.” The program began with training over the summer of a core group of educators, students and parent representatives led by Principal Galante. The faculty learned about the program this week from Challenge Success representative Jon Kleinman, who also presented “The Well-Balanced Student” to parents on Tuesday evening.

The goal of the program is to broaden the definition of success beyond a narrow one that overemphasizes grades, test scores, and performance, allowing little time and energy for young people to develop essential skills to become independent, ethical, and critical thinkers.  As Principal Galante stated, it will allow students to “live their best lives.” Following the presentation, educators completed collaborative and reflective exercises connected to the program. Students will take a comprehensive survey in the coming weeks which will lay the foundation for deeper study and development of recommendations for improvement.

Faculty at John Glenn Middle School spent the morning in team-based parent conferences designed to give families a more comprehensive view of their students’ academic and social growth during these middle years.  In the afternoon, faculty engaged in several design challenges, including one in which they needed to guide a sphero remotely. The purpose of the work—even though it was set up more like a game or contest—was to give faculty members some ideas about how they might integrate design challenges into their curriculum. Such challenges engage participants in team work and creative problem solving skills.

Elementary educators at the Lane School continued to hone their experience and skills in the Lucy Calkins Readers Workshop, the core of their literacy program now in its first year of full implementation across all three grades. During the intensive small group sessions, teachers collaborated using their students’ pre-assessment data for the current non-fiction unit to develop strategy groups and individual learning goals.  The work continued into the afternoon as they developed lesson structures, readings and other options for their student groups.

Davis School faculty members spent the morning, first with a community building exercise, followed by related workshops in social-emotional learning facilitated by counselors or behaviorists paired with classroom teachers.  Teachers chose two of the five workshops to attend.  Following lunch, teachers met in their grade level teams to discuss the science work they have thus far been able to integrate into their curriculum. This discussion was the culmination of three professional development sessions connected to the science standards, the goal this year being to unpack and prioritize the science standards, and to deepen the science aspects of the integrated curriculum. The work is grounded in the faculty’s shared study throughout this year of Developing Natural Curiosity through Project-Based Learning by Dana Laur and Jill Ackers.

It was an exciting and inspiring day for educators across the district. We appreciate the community's support of this in-service professional learning.  MLS

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Laying the Foundation for K-12 Guidance and Counseling



In recent years we have all come to understand the significance of social-emotional learning to a student’s overall development and progress.  We have a better understanding of the emotional conditions that best support academic learning, among these being a sense of belonging, of mattering, of being known and understood by their teachers.  We also know that without self-regulation and resilience, a student is much less likely to learn and thrive in school or at home. Helping students feel safe AND helping them develop the dispositions, independence and sense of self that are needed to strengthen learning has become an important focus of our work across all of our grades.  At the same time, the social-emotional complexity of children has also increased, with greater numbers and percentages of students coming to school with anxiety or a history of trauma that can potentially interfere with learning and developing strong relationships necessary to it.  We see this rise in acuity among all demographics, among majority and minority members of racial and income-differing subgroups.

In responding to that need, the district leadership team has become increasingly aware of the importance of a coherent, coordinated K-12 guidance and counseling program. We have effective counseling programs, interventions, services, and supports in place within each of our schools, but we recognize the need to coordinate and facilitate those programs more closely K-12 in order to develop the coherent program that will be most effective for students and their families. Last spring, we created a K-12 Program Director position for Guidance and Counseling and hired Alicia Linsey to fulfill that role.  Alicia comes to us from Lexington High School, where, as a guidance counselor, she has played an important leadership role in national guidance counselor organizations.  She brings to Bedford a deep understanding of social-emotional learning, a strong commitment to equity, and a powerful set of skills and relationships derived from her years of experience running a college counseling business.

Knowing that the 6-12 Guidance and Counseling role has traditionally been a full-time position in itself, we are working to develop the necessary infrastructure to make the position and program development manageable and successful. Early this fall, then, we also created a K-5 Guidance and Counseling Coordinator position. Paula Francis-Springer, an exceptional counselor at the Davis school, has been appointed to this position.  Highly respected both for her direct service to students and families and for teaming with Principal Benoit as a school leader, she will continue her counseling work at Davis, but in addition will receive a stipend to help coordinate the K-5 aspects of this larger program.  These two positions will help us to become more effective in helping students navigate the transitions from 2nd to 3rd grade, from 5th to 6th grade, and from 8th to 9th grade.

The 18-19 school year will serve to lay the groundwork for this program. To that end, Alicia has arranged for quarterly K-12 Guidance and Counseling meetings. During these sessions, counselors are reviewing data, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and presenting grade level programs and curriculum to the K-12 team with the purpose of collectively identifying common threads. Simultaneously, counselors will observe one another across the district to determine similar services and programs and identify areas of need. The K-12 meetings will also act as a conversational platform to begin to align department goals and objectives. While there is current parent outreach, the department aims to expand resources for parents/guardians. This concerted work will inform next steps for the 2019-2020 school year.

As a district, Bedford is deeply committed to the important work of social-emotional learning and pleased to announce this plan for strengthening our program.           MLS

Thursday, September 27, 2018

LEGACY MCAS AND MCAS 2.0 RESULTS AND SCHOOL SAFETY UPDATE

MCAS RESULTS

Introduction. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released the MCAS and accountability results at noon today, September 27th. Student results will be delivered to the schools over the next several days and will be sent out to families as soon as possible. This memo is a preliminary sharing, but district leaders will be doing a deeper dive in each area to analyze our results and determine adjustments to instruction, curriculum, or supports.

We are in a testing transition that has extended over the past several years. Students in grades 3-8 took the MCAS 2.0 in ELA and math for the second year in 2018. The first year of the test, 2017, served as the baseline for the new test. Improvement targets were set for all students and for each subgroup based on those 2017 results.

MCAS 2.0 is the new state assessment, which tests students’ knowledge and understanding of the Massachusetts Frameworks in ELA and Math, both of which strongly reflect of the Common Core Standards. These Common Core standards focus on higher order thinking skills in relation to text, and therefore align closely with the Bedford Public Schools’ core focus on strengthening students’ analytical thinking skills. However, where for quite some time we have taught students how to use textual evidence to support claims about the fictional literature that they read, having them do this with nonfiction is a relatively new focus. Developing these skills K-12 is presently our central strategic priority.

Meanwhile, the Science assessments and the 10th grade ELA and Math assessments, referred to as Legacy MCAS, reflect the old standards, with a small degree of the new standards layered in.

Results Overview. Overall, the following information shows excellent achievement and growth at the 3rd – 5th grade levels, with 4th and 5th grade showing the strongest results. In the 6th – 8th grade category, 7th and 8th grade reflect moderate overall achievement, with poorer showings in our subgroup categories like special education and low income students. The 6th grade’s scores are disappointing and require a much more detailed causal analysis. The exiting news is that the Lane School integrated the Common Core well before either the middle or the high school, and its strong scores reflect this. With our new, “all hands on deck focus on literacy”, particularly the development of students’ abilities to independently comprehend complex non-fiction, or paired fiction and non-fiction texts, we are confident that the middle school’s results will become much stronger.

The high school continues to score in the high range for math and ELA, (90% Advanced and Proficient in math, and 96% in ELA), but we have dipped in the past few years. This decline, while small, particularly given the strength of the programs that support our most struggling students, is something that we are anxious to better understand and address. While Bedford’s high needs population is larger than most of the districts that are scoring higher, our mission is to bring all of our students to Advanced or Proficient levels.

Preliminary Details.
 The Lane School (grades 3-5) met or exceeded their improvement targets for all students and in every subgroup in both English and math. The performance of 5th grade students in ELA was exceptionally strong, in the 98th percentile for achievement of all students across the state. 90% of fifth grade students met or exceeded expectations in this very challenging ELA test. The math performance dropped a bit in grades 3-4-5, though that was the case in the state overall. There are
some areas of concern in the grade 3 ELA performance. Overall, the Lane earned 92% in improvement targets, and is thus identified as “Meeting Targets.” They are in the 94th percentile when measured against other similar schools in the state.

 At JGMS, the “all student” group met improvement targets, and the lowest performing students (identified the previous year) improved but fell short of their target. Several of the subgroups in math and ELA did not meet their targets. In grade 7 ELA, 64% of students met or exceeded expectations, in the 84th percentile statewide. In grade 8 ELA, 68% of students met or exceeded expectations, also in the 84th percentile statewide. 68% of grade 7 math students met or exceeded expectations, in the 93rd percentile; 66% of grade 8 math students met or exceeded expectations, in the 83rd percentile statewide.

Overall, JGMS earned 64% in progress toward improvement targets, and is thus identified as “partially meeting targets.” They are in the 71st percentile when measured against other similar schools in the state.

 The 2018 tenth grade MCAS tests in ELA and math, like the science tests, were MCAS legacy for the last year. The 2019 tests will all be MCAS 2.0. In the 2018 ELA test, while “all students” exceeded their target, students with disabilities declined. MCAS math performance held steady for “all students” but declined for students with disabilities and the lowest performing students (identified the previous year). Building leaders and program administrators are working with the results to identify additional supports and instructional adjustments. With the high school, as with middle school, strengthening literacy instruction across all subject areas, which began as a priority in 2017-2018 will take time to have full effect on such measures as MCAS. 10th grade Math scores were 90% Proficient and Advanced, with 71% or our students scoring Advanced. In ELA, we were 96% Advanced and Proficient, with 71% scoring Advanced. In Science, we were 92% Advanced or Proficient, reflecting a strong upward trend. Overall the high school earned 56% in improvement targets, and is thus identified as “partially meeting targets.” It ranks in the 76th accountability percentile.

 The science MCAS test, administered in grades 5, 8, and 10 is not yet a “new generation” (2.0) test, but is rather an “MCAS legacy” test. Improvement targets were set for this test, as with the MCAS 2.0. While science performance fell across the state, especially at grade 8, our science results improved. At grade 5, students in every group exceeded their targets with the exception of English learners (formerly called ELL students), who met their target. Students in grade 8 groups also met or exceeded their improvement targets. In 10th grade science, all students in measured groups exceeded their targets with the exception of students with disabilities, who met their targets.

The New Accountability System. Part of the transition in 2018 is to a new accountability system, which we will be explaining and writing about in more detail in the coming weeks. There are several additional factors now considered in the accountability rating: progress toward attaining proficiency for English learners; chronic absenteeism (more than 10% of enrolled days) measured in grades 1-12; advanced coursework completion at the high school (11th and 12th grades enrolled in at least one advanced course); assessment participation (95% requirement as measured over two years).

Overall the Bedford School District earned 72% and is thus designated as “partially meeting targets” (districts from 75-100 are designated as “meeting target” so this percentage should not be interpreted as a “C-.”) Statewide, 17% of districts are designated as “meeting targets”; 75% of districts are designated as “partially meeting” targets.

As Commissioner Jeffrey Riley indicated in his briefing to districts earlier this week, this is a new accountability system and is thus a year of learning and taking a breath, and a year to celebrate positive improvements. We have a number of things to celebrate with MCAS 2.0, especially at the elementary level, and have sure steps in place to strengthen student learning as measured by these more complex tests.

PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SAFETY IN THE BEDFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Overview. Schools have always attended to the safety of their students, whether through thoughtful dismissal processes, teaching students to respect each other’s personal spaces, or promulgating rules regarding and consequences for dangerous behaviors. But of course, during the past two decades, we have been forced to add to those practices a set of protocols and capital investments aimed to prevent and respond to catastrophic emergencies that put students’ and staff’s lives at risk. At the same time, with more and more students experiencing trauma in their lives, we have needed to evolve clear and effective responses to prevent self-harm or the harming of others. And, we have become acutely aware that effective learning does not take place when students do not feel emotionally safe, whether from bullying or malicious teasing, sexual harassment, racism, or social isolation.

How We Prepare for Crises. Several years ago, in the wake of Sandy Hook, we convened a task force to review our safety plans and procedures, many of which had been in place ever since Columbine. These included a district-wide Crisis Committee and regular “lock down” drills at all four schools. The task force, comprised of school personnel, school resource officers, parents and security professionals, recommended, and the school committee approved, that we:

 move to the more flexible A.L.I.C.E. protocol in lieu of the more rigid lock-down response,
 lock all doors and create lines of sight (either by space modifications or the installation of front door cameras) to all front doors, so that visual confirmation may proceed admission of visitors to all of our schools,
 add a special film to large plate glass doors and windows to prevent a shooter from being able to shatter glass to gain entry, and
 continue the critical work of educating our students to be upstanders to stop bullying and to provide critical information should they hear about potential dangers.

Improvements Planned for This Year. Presently, we are exploring a few technical improvements to our safety systems. We plan to implement a communication capability that would enable every staff member to immediately alert all police vehicles of an intruder, which will save minutes in response time, and key in the exact, and ever changing location of said intruder. Also, thanks to the suggestions made by several parents and staff, we intend to implement an identification process for visitors that will add a layer of safety to the existing visual recognition process, because not all visitors are known to the school receptionists. As part of this plan, we are looking to add a vestibule to the front entrance at Lane, since it is the only school that presently does not have one.

Balancing Safety with Privacy- Cameras and the Challenge of Dangerous Bus Behavior. We have long sought to balance safety concerns with privacy needs, and have resisted calls to install cameras in our schools. However, over the past few years we have experienced a range of dangerous behaviors on a number of buses- the nearly full buses on several Davis and Lane Bedford routes, and the elementary bus that takes over an hour and a half to bring students home to Boston. The behaviors have included students getting out of their seats, student to student conflict, throwing objects, etc. For the first time, we are considering adding cameras to these specific buses, keeping in mind that buses are the one place that groups of students are unsupervised during the school day, and we cannot afford to have monitors on each bus. While we have monitors on the METCO bus and have taken other creative measures, the length of the ride presents a tremendous behavioral challenge. Stay tuned for notice of an opportunity for family input on this issue.

Next week: Emotional Safety                                                                                     JS

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What's Love Got To Do With It?- Opening Day Reflections


WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

After a long hiatus, Assistant Superintendent, Mary Lou Sallee, and I are back in the blogosphere, and are aiming for bi-weekly posts to start the year off right!

The school year is off to a great start, despite last week’s grueling heat.  As we toured the buildings, we could feel the positive energy, the excitement, and the commitment to learning that our exceptional staff expresses on a daily basis.  And seeing the smiling, laughing, and sometimes nervous faces of all of our students certainly eased our summer adieus.

New Faculty and Staff.  As you may be aware, teachers return for two days of meetings, professional development, and mobilization around the district’s key, pre-K through 12 priorities, just prior to the long Labor Day weekend.  And prior to that we welcome and orient our new faculty and staff- over forty this year- an exciting addition of new talent, energy and ideas for our four schools.  Among these are three new assistant principals, and two seasoned educators filling new positions- K-12 English Language Learner Program Director, and K-12 Guidance Director, about whom I will share more information in a subsequent blog post.

Heartfelt.  One of the most moving sessions that I sat in on, as I navigated my way past the carefully fenced off construction staging area at Davis School, included all of the guidance and special education staff, as well as the teachers of our “specials” like library and music.  In a ritual that is repeated annually, the group reviewed a long list of students identified as needing some special, “from the start” attention to ensure a successful school year.  Whether academically challenged, emotionally struggling, socially disconnected or physically impaired, each student was reviewed in a two way sharing- one to inform the teachers about the students who will be in their classes, and two, to invite the teachers, who see all of the students over the course of the year, to brainstorm with the support staff about how to best meet the students’ needs. 

I have rarely felt so much love expressed in one room!  The depth of knowledge about each child that these educators possessed, and the thoughtful, deeply caring way that they discussed how to help him or her move forward in the new year, were nothing short of awe inspiring. 

The following example, names changed, captures the spirit of the conversation, which lasted for several hours, as the team worked through an extensive list of students both in regular education and with special education IEPs.   “Let’s talk next about Felix.  He has shown some patterns of dysregulation throughout the year, and he tends to self-isolate,” began the special education program administrator.  “Yes, Felix,” chimed in the music teacher, “the Felix with the green eyes, he’s such a love.  He could definitely use a male buddy to help him feel like he belongs.”  “I know just the student,” responded the librarian- Damion-  “he would definitely take him under his wing.  Plus, they both really like legos.”

Educating children, of all ages, is an act of love.  Our faculty and staff pour their hearts into their work and into their students.  A wonderful colleague of mine from another district wrote a poem that I think expresses this beautifully-  the deeply felt hope and expectations that our families feel, the awesome responsibility entrusted to our educators… one that Bedford’s educators take ever so deeply to heart.                                                                                                       JS

Parents’ Night

One by one the tidy classrooms across the courtyard
are going black.  Parents filter out toward their cars
and headlights flicker across the windows.
But there she is at my desk, smiling out of a shapeless coat.

It isn’t just the heavy Russian accent that makes it hard.
I lean my head toward what she has to say
about her daughter Katya with, I see now, the same shy smile--
her daughter Katya who, too, lingers at my desk after class.

She burns a trail of smoky words:  Katya loves reading very much,
she has problem with hearing -- she wants to write like Tolstoi --
she liked so much last year’s English teacher--
I thank him thank him for the rest of my life.

When she breaks off, eyes eager at my face,
I pull my head back, clearing for a smooth landing,
but the sentences I pave out about the course, about Katya’s progress,
somehow crumble and fall away.

Her forehead wrinkles; she veers sideways and lifts off again,
circling back over the territory, words thick and halting.
I watch but cannot follow
though I try until the halls are dark.

On the drive home the mother’s words are large-winged moths
that brush soft bodies against my hair
and flutter thinly at the windshield.
Suddenly I see the nonsense of my replies.

“Please,” she’d been saying, racing against the custodian,
rattling his keys as he came, snapping off lights.
“Please,” she had said, those keys jangling toward my door --
“Can you love my child?”                                           
                                                                        --Mary Burchenal