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Monday, October 23, 2017

Teachers take a Deep Dive into Curriculum during Summer Months

While the summer months provide a welcome change of pace for students and teachers, many Bedford educators renew themselves over the summer by engaging in collaborative reflection on their practice with an eye toward improving some area of their curriculum or instruction. In our experience, collaborative work on curriculum over the summer is one of the most effective ways to advance our work as professionals.  For that reason, Bedford now commits about half of its professional development budget to these efforts.

The summer of 2017 saw extensive training and curriculum development for our co-teaching teams in all four buildings. This year the training was led by our own experienced teachers, rather than by consultants, with very good results.  While we needed consultants to help us get the training underway, we have now developed enough capacity to deepen the work using teacher leaders and coaches. Co-teaching teams will also have release and common planning time during the school year to continue developing and refining their work with students. Co-teaching will be presented to school committee by participating trainers and teachers in early December.

Several projects were devoted to integration of higher order thinking skills as part of out literacy implementation in 17-18: Second grade teachers continued to deepen their work on integrated learning that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity; elementary math and science coordinators and teachers developed more authentic and integrated performance tasks; JGMS social studies teachers strengthened the literacy skills sequence and training within their curricula; grade 8 ELA teachers strengthened the thematic unity of their course, incorporating a culminating project that knits their course together.

Equity and diversity continue as priorities, with work being done on the Teaching Tolerance curriculum at Davis, as well as extensive work increasing access to and student engagement in advanced courses at the secondary level. Educators continued development of the un-levelled courses in senior English, African-American Studies and Asian-American Studies.  Both courses have nearly doubled their enrollment for the 17-18 school year.

The summer curriculum work was presented to school committee earlier this month and is linked below.

2017 Summer Curriculum Development

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


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.

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, 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 to view the Davis School Building Committee Report and the Davis School Building Addition Powerpoint Presentation.

Friday, May 26, 2017


Since the start of this school year, swastikas have been found in middle and high schools in Reading, Lexington, Newton, Brookline, Billerica, Cambridge, Harvard, Stoughton, Canton, and Marblehead, and on the garage of an African-American family in Arlington.  The Anti-Defamation League reports that in 2016 Massachusetts ranked fifth in the nation for the number of anti-Semitic incidents, with reported offenses jumping from 50 in 2015 to 125 in 2016. During this school year, as well, racist graffiti has been reported to have been found in Attleboro, Concord, Newton, Harvard, Cambridge, Brockton and Natick public schools.

Sadly, Bedford has not been immune to this intolerable trend, as indicated by the high school's discovery of two swastikas on Friday and the middle school's discovery of a swastika on Monday. Both school principals sent messages to their parent communities and they are addressing the issue with their students in a variety of ways.  Despite these and potentially other unreported incidents, perpetrated by what I believe to be a tiny minority, all of the work that the schools and our community partners have been doing since the spate of anti-Semitic incidents four years ago has not been for naught.  Our JGMS students' welcome poster/letters below that, to our knowledge, appeared spontaneously three days ago and have expanded ever since are a wonderful testament to the power of this ongoing work.  They are a much more accurate reflection of the values that our school community holds dear.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dear Readers,

We apologize for the long delay in updating our blog.

On Tuesday evening, April 25, I presented the findings of the Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force, the product of nearly a year of deliberations involving an interfaith committee of students, teachers, parents, community members and clergy.  On May 7, the school committee will hold a second meeting to consider and vote upon the policy and procedural recommendations of the task force.

As you will see from the school committee presentation linked below, our challenge was to address the following concerns related to how to the Bedford schools presently address religious holidays. With no formal policy regarding, or consistent practice for dealing with, religious observance-related absences, homework and tests, and no clear standard for determining on which days there should be no school, these concerns have included:

  • Too much interrupted learning
  • Lack of clarity for students and families and inconsistent practice regarding homework and tests on high holidays,
  • Inequitable treatment of different faith and cultural practices, and
  • Insufficient student awareness of diverse beliefs and traditions
Presently, the schools have no school on Christmas Eve day and a half-day for students on Good Friday.  There has been an unwritten practice of having no homework or tests on the Jewish high holidays.  There has typically been little to no acknowledgement of the other faiths' observances, and little education other than a history of world religions social studies unit in middle school.

In the context of the increasing diversity of our student body, the task force was charge with recommending a set of clear policy guidelines that promote:
  • Respectful acknowledgment of different faiths/beliefs 
  • Opportunities for students to learn about and respect each other’s different beliefs and traditions
  • Equitable treatment of students whose families hold different beliefs
While minimizing interruption to learning

To those ends, the recommendations include:
  • Minimize disruption of learning by:
    • having no school only on Christmas Eve day when the high rate of student and teacher absence would preclude academic progress
    • Allowing for normal teaching and learning on all religious and cultural* holidays, including new material, tests, quizzes and homework
  • Have a policy that:
    • Excuses all absences due to observance of religious or cultural* holidays upon parent request
    • Provides for extra time for observant students to make up missed work or tests and the expectation that teachers will work with students to do so in a manner that minimizes the burden
    • Includes major religious holidays and cultural* holidays as designated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on the school calendar
  • Provide professional development that:
    • Orients teachers’ awareness of the new policy and school calendar so they can anticipate student absences and plan, whenever feasible, not to give tests or major projects.
    • facilitates increased faculty awareness, sensitivity and readiness to support students who miss work due to these observances.
    • Ensure the promotion of awareness of diversity of beliefs through morning announcements of impending holidays (whether week day or week end) 
    • Pilot for two years and review

    Please see presentation for specific policy recommendations and survey results.

    Monday, February 27, 2017

    Dear Students, Families, Faculty and Staff,
    During February break, President Trump reversed President Obama's guidance to schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that they feel are appropriate to their gender, and instead argued that the question of which bathrooms transgender students may use should be left to the states.

    Massachusetts passed its own law in 2016 giving "transgender people the right to use restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identities."*  Unless the Supreme Court were to rule otherwise, the Massachusetts law will remain in effect whether or not the federal government supports this position. The Bedford School Department's actions are governed by the Massachusetts statute, which closely aligns with our District's values.

    Those values clearly uphold the right of all of our students to be themselves, to be free from discrimination and disparate treatment, and to feel safe to embrace their identities.  We also safeguard the right of all of our students to voice their opinions, respectfully, even if those opinions are not embraced by a majority of their peers. Ensuring the intellectual and emotional safety of all of our students is a personal priority, and I pledge to work closely with all members of our school community to protect, particularly, the most vulnerable among us. In the context of national news regarding the travel ban and deportations, this may mean our Muslim students or immigrant families' children.  In the context of a particular class discussion, it may mean a student with conservative political views.

    At the end of the day, learning is undermined when students feel unsupported or under attack, or when they are afraid to voice their beliefs.  As educators, we cannot sit idly by and allow that to happen.


    Jon Sills

    Monday, January 30, 2017

    A Message to Faculty, Staff, Students and Families

    While I am certain that we have faculty, students and families who are opposed to President Trump's recent executive order and faculty, students and families who support it, I am equally certain that we have students and faculty who are personally impacted by it.  

    Please be alert to the very real possibility that we will have students in our classes or fellow faculty members who will be anxious, afraid and/or feeling personally attacked by the travel ban.  At the very minimum, anxiety, fear and a feeling of being targeted or diminished impede learning, and we all must do our utmost to take care of our students' and our fellow faculty members' feelings.  

    I would add for families that if you have a concern about your child's well-being relative to this evolving situation, please contact the classroom teacher, school guidance counselor or administration to let them know.

    School Committee Approves FY18 Budget 

    Last Tuesday, the School Committee voted to approve a $39,061,561 FY18 budget, which is a $1,320,858 or 3.5% increase over the FY17 budget.  Following a multi-month process that included a line item review of the present budget and a reduction of $209,080 from the Superintendent’s initial increase request of 4.05%, the final vote aligned the FY18 budget with the Finance Committee’s 3.5% guideline.   Confident that this budget will support the District’s 2017-2018 educational objectives, we will present the FY budget to the Finance Committee on February 2. 

    The principal drivers for the FY18 budget include our growing student population, expansion of our in-house special education programs, additional personnel needs to support academic success for all students, and instructional technology integration.  Key among the enrollment-driven needs are  additional teachers at Lane and JGMS and added custodial support for increased space at Lane and Davis; and included among our special education additions are special educators and teaching assistants for our SAIL, STEP and Integrated Pre-school programs.

    Were it not for the success of these special education programs and the corresponding savings derived from educating increasing numbers of students in-house (several million dollars per year), it is fair to say that we would have found it much more difficult to meet this year’s guideline. 

    Please go to Superintendent's FY18 Budget Request Final to view the Final FY18 Budget Presentation.

    Governor’s FY18 Budget

    Good news for Bedford out of the Governor’s office.   While there is some controversy over whether the Governor’s FY18 includes the funding that the Commonwealth’s schools need to address their many challenges, Bedford is unquestionably the beneficiary of two of the Governor’s decisions: the increase of Bedford’s Chapter 70 (Education Foundation Budget) funding by $242,761 and the inclusion of $513,000 Military Mitigation Aid for the first time in a governor’s budget request!

    Bedford has had to fight each of the past ten years that the Massachusetts State Legislature has agreed to channel funding to Bedford to mitigate the fiscal impact of our Hanscom students, given that the federal government has failed to adequately meet its obligation.  Fully committed to continuing the relationship with Hanscom AFB that contributes so much to the unique character of our students’ education, we have fought with some success to convince Massachusetts lawmakers of the fairness of our position- that Hanscom contributes $8 billion annually to the region’s economy, but Bedford alone shoulders the cost of educating its high school age children.  Thanks to a collective effort, including the relentless advocacy of Representative Ken Gordon and Senator Mike Barrett, the legislature passed a bill two years ago that made this commitment permanent, but unfortunately it has nevertheless been subject to the unpredictability of the annual appropriation. While successful at the end of the day for each of the past several years, it has taken a lot of time and energy to see the process through.  So  Governor Baker’s decision to include it for the first time in the governor’s budget thankfully makes it all the more certain that the bill will be funded in FY18.                               JS

    Friday, January 13, 2017


    Just prior to the winter break, I presented the Superintendent’s FY18 Budget Request, ( to the School Committee.  As you will see, I have requested a 4.05% increase over the FY17 budget, which is .55% higher than the 3.5% guideline that the Finance Committee set this year for the schools.  Building upon a 2.57% Maintenance of Effort budget, the additional $561,358 in new requests corresponds to four budget drivers:
    ·         Enrollment increases at Lane and JGMS
    ·         Cost-saving, in-house special education program expansion
    ·         Modest instruction and maintenance related salary additions
    ·         Modest contract service, technology and maintenance additions

    Examining the budget line by line at our last School Committee meeting, the committee asked clarifying questions about various line items, and engaged in a process intended to ensure that one, any unrecognized needs will be addressed, and two, that any areas that might yield savings will be identified. 
    FY18 MoE % CHANGE
    TOTAL FY18  % Change


    In preparation for the next School Committee meeting, the committee has tasked the superintendent to present two additional budget scenarios:  a 3.75% increase over FY17 and a 3.5% (FinCom guideline) increase over FY17.  These will require reducing the projected FY18 budget of $39,740,703 by $114,662 or $209,013 depending upon which of the two scenarios is acceptable to the committee.

    It is important to note that the practicability of coming close to meeting, or potentially meeting the Finance Committee guideline, as we did last year, despite our enrollment-driven need for additional staff, is mostly attributable to the school department’s successfully reducing our out-of-district special education costs during the past ten years.  Impelled by a commitment to educate children with significant special needs in the least restrictive environment (in-house as opposed to out-of-district whenever possible) as well as by the budgetary imperative, the programs that we have created have reduced our out-of-district placements from 116 in 2006 to 59 this year. 

    While these programs themselves require adequate levels of staffing, the net savings and cost avoidance are significant.  In future years, however, the direct savings from bringing children back in-district will begin to diminish, although the cost-avoidance will continue to be quite large.  As this happens and as our enrollment continues to grow, meeting guideline will present a much greater challenge. JS

    Following upon December’s news that the Massachusetts School Building Authority rejected our statement of interest for a Davis School addition, this week we reconvened the Space Needs Task Force to take up the work of re-examining our enrollment trends and making a recommendation to the School Committee as to whether or not to proceed with a town-funded Davis School project.

    A year ago, the task force produced a comprehensive report that verified the enrollment trend that our commissioned study (NESDEC) had projected in 2009.  The report, which can be viewed at
    examined a multiplicity of sources in order to yield an in-depth analysis of the drivers behind our growing student population.  The support that followed for the Lane School project is now being translated into brick and mortar and the space that our growing population needs to learn at Lane.

    This week the committee toured Davis School as Principal Beth Benoit pointed out the building’s deficiencies as increased enrollment and special education programming press up against limited space.

    The FY18 capital budget has a $98,000 placeholder for feasibility study and schematic design should the research bear out the projected need for additional classroom space at Davis, where we presently have two modular classrooms to temporarily meet the need.  The task force will complete its enrollment data update by early March to give the School Committee and other town boards time to make a decision about whether or not to bring this request forward at this year’s Town Meeting.

    A big thanks to the following task force volunteers for stepping up once again: Rob Badzey, Shaena Grossman, Diane Hughes, Mark Mullins, Brenda Catanzano, Jeff Cohen, Jim O’Neil, School Committee members Ed Pierce and JoAnn Santiago, Facilities Director Taissir Alani, and School Finance Director David Coelho.  JS