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Thursday, September 13, 2018

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


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       

Thursday, March 22, 2018

March 9th Professional Development: Pre-K-12 Ed Camp Day

Educators across the district participated in our first pre-K-12 Ed Camp Day on Friday, March 9th. The event was a great success, so we look to use this district-wide model in the future. The basic premise of Ed Camp is that teachers teach each other in a wide variety of educational topics organized around a broad educational principle. Educators are free to sign up for the workshops that interest them so long as space permits. The program is launched in the late fall with a survey of faculty interests so that the offerings meet educator needs and priorities.

This year's program was entitled "A Learner's Odyssey" and featured 111 speaker-presenters, including 5 student presentations, over 80 different sessions. Each educator could participate in four 50-minute workshops ranging from teaching and learning strategies; meeting students' social and emotional needs; understanding diverse students, including the Hanscom experience, which featured a field trip to the base; educating boys; strategies for assessing writing; oral storytelling; and engaging in difficult conversation with adults. The final session of the day offered wellness options, including yoga, print-making, and trivia.

The day began with a keynote speech by Audrey Jackson, a fifth grade teacher at the Joseph P. Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, and 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  Ms. Jackson inspired faculty and staff with her experience and wisdom, including video clips from her fifth grade class. She integrates social-emotional with academic learning to foster an environment that works for all her students. She described the process as differentiating for accessibility and engagement.  All her students are working toward the same standards but from different starting places as she helps them to develop both self-awareness and social awareness. 

Here are a  few follow-up survey comments from educators:

The day was a confirmation of the high level of professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm for teaching and providing a great education for all Bedford students.

Guest speaker was super motivating. Differentiating session provided great resources such as the pyramid model for "all students will be able to; most students will be able to; and some students" for easy use. The day had good energy.

I have two concrete ideas that I want to implement in my classroom. There is a new app I want to try for some lessons, and I am thinking hard about how I want to change how I lecture and give notes.

I have new tools and ideas to add to my classroom. And the guest speaker helped me feel good about the way my classroom is currently operating.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

January Professional Development across the District

Bedford Public Schools values collaborative learning among its faculty as key to our model of continuous improvement. The most important of these opportunities are our full professional development days, one each in November,  January, and March. What follows is a brief description of our work in each building on January 12th

Davis: Teachers at Davis spent most of their day working on various aspects of reading instruction facilitated by ELA Curriculum Director Andrea Salipante, centered on their shared reading of Katie Cunningham’s Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. They began with completing their own reading interest inventory, the principle being that one needs to understand herself as a reader in order to support students in their reading journey. They moved from there through different methods for identifying the reading interests of their students as well as student attitudes toward reading, all with the aim of meeting students where they are in order to help them grow and develop as readers. Students need to see themselves as well as learn about others in the stories they read. The day culminated with teachers examining their own classroom libraries in light of the essentials of a high-quality classroom library.

Lane: Lane teachers also focused on literacy instruction in a workshop launched by Andrea Salipante, then facilitated by reading specialist Kate Berrien and teachers Megan Farrell, Peter Ferguson, and Amy Campbell. The goal of the day was to help teachers understand more deeply how the Readers Workshop plays out within the classroom day-to-day.  The teacher leaders shared videos of their own work with students and answered questions about how to help students set goals and develop effective reading habits by reading “just right” books for their level. In this way, as Kate pointed out “weaker readers can be stronger thinkers” because they have some choice over what they read, and they are reading at their level. Teachers also worked on conferring with students, one of the most powerful tools in helping readers to develop. The day culminated with time for teachers to work in consultation with facilitators on their own current classroom situations and practices.

JGMS professional development included an engaging speaker/expert on Mindfulness during the morning session, and then, in the afternoon, the teachers were highly energized by the “treasure hunt” activity focused on literacy and different learning styles. This activity is similar to one high school teachers engaged in last fall, so all 6-12 teachers now share the experience of highly engaging yet challenging problem solving in cooperative groups.

BHS faculty focused on student behaviors impacted by emotional challenges.  As Heather Gallante observed in her Friday memo to faculty, “While we have committed to focusing on literacy as a district this year, it must be noted that literacy can cover a number of areas.  As part of an end of year survey, many faculty members expressed an interest in learning more about managing challenging students in an effort to help those students find academic and personal success.  We have looked at literacy through our academic lens.  Now we are going to shift and cover social/emotional literacy as it pertains to our 'hard to reach' students." 

Their guest speaker, Catherine Conway, presented the Concept of the Crucial Cs, through which "educators can develop short-term intervention strategies and long-term prevention strategies that focus on helping students meet their needs in positive ways mutually respectful relationships between teachers and students." Students need to Connect, feel Capable,  Count, and feel Courageous. Often misbehavior is an attempt by a student trying to meet one of these needs.  Teachers who can recognize what need a student is trying to meet can help that student meet the need in a more positive way.

Ed Camp Coming in March
Our instructional and technology coaches have been working for weeks under the leadership of Donna Clements with input from the district leadership team to design our first-ever K-12 EdCamp experience in March. The idea of an EdCamp is that teachers offer workshops to other teachers. This approach to professional development began at the high school several years ago, moved into the middle school, and began last year at Davis and Lane.  The experience has been so successful for participants and presenters alike, and this year teachers have suggested we try a K-12 experience. We are all excited about this day, and we'll be sure to share the details with you.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

MCAS 2.0 and Accountability

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

At the school committee meeting on December 12th, I presented our MCAS 2.0 results, along with our Accountability ratings for the Legacy MCAS test still being administered at the high school level and in science grades 5 and 8. Here are a few highlights from that presentation as well as the full presentation for your review.

We are in a testing transition in grades 3-8 Math and English Language Arts (ELA) that has extended over the past several years.  For two years (14-15 and 15-16) we participated in the PARCC test along with many other districts in Massachusetts. While we received very little item analysis from these tests, we were able to glean several areas in which we needed to make progress: in math around applying concepts to new situations, choosing multiple correct responses, and showing-explaining work; and in ELA around analysis of multiple complex texts, especially in written or essay responses. These skills are part of the Common Core standards in ELA and math, released in 2010 and revised in 2017. We have been working as a district on aligning our instruction to these standards.

The MCAS 2.0 test, which students in grades 3-8 took for the first time in spring 2017, sets a baseline for the new test and as such gives us a solid starting point in a more coherent testing system. While it will take several years to adjust to the new test, Bedford has taken necessary steps to strengthen our instruction and student performance. Lane School's classroom teachers are involved in deep professional development around the teaching of reading so as to meet the learning needs of each student. JGMS teachers are collaborating more closely around the teaching of non-fiction reading and writing to further strengthen students' abilities to analyze and draw conclusions from multiple complex texts. In math, we are working closely to pace the curriculum and build in the more complex math practices required by the standards, and by these tests.

When you review the attached presentation, you will see in more detail how students performed and the steps we have taken.  Families received detailed individual reports on their students' performance in the fall.

In terms of accountability, there are no accountability ratings for these new MCAS 2.0 tests, so the Lane School and John Glenn Middle School have no ratings.  (That is true of all schools grades 3-8 across Massachusetts.) At the high school, we slipped to Level 2 for the first time because several subgroups (such as High Needs students) did not make the required proficiency gains in math and science, although we did make necessary gains in English.  As is our practice each year, we analyze the learning needs of any student who scored below proficient and adjust instruction, student schedule, and course material to meet those individual needs.

Later this month the district will be sending its annual "report card" to all families in the district.  This report card, issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), will give even greater detail on the district performance as well as other factors, including information about student demographics and teacher licensure. You will receive this report via email, and it will also be posted on the district website.

Here is the link to the presentation given to school committee in December.

MCAS 2.0 and MCAS Accountability

If you have any questions, please feel free to write or call.


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.