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Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Benefits Reading-Aloud

In my role as Title I Director I help to oversee our important work with our students in mathematics and literacy.  We spend hours identifying the students who need interventions, collecting data to help us best serve their needs, and then assessing their growth based upon these interventions in order to measure our own success in helping our students learn. 
Students are offered strategies for close-reading and writing and they practice answering questions and searching for context clues.  But what about the pure joy of reading?
I recently attended a keynote presentation that featured a topic that mesmerized me.  Lester L. Laminack, Professor Emeritus from Western Carolina University, presented on his book, The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource.  Professor Laminack shared many ideas throughout his presentation.  He cited the research.  He suggested new strategies.  But the most important thing that he did for us was sharing a simple story.  He just read-aloud from a picture book to a room filled with teachers.
The story he chose to read was a book entitled In November by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jill Kastner.  Professor Laminack read us the story, and savored every word.  The large auditorium was so quiet that you could hear the flipping of every page.  It was a wonderful book and an even greater experience.  And his point was well-made.
In The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource, Laminack (2016) writes:
I hear the demands to raise scores in our schools.  I see the impact of the pressure to get more done in less time to meet standards.  And I wonder.  I wonder what we lose when we let go of those small moments…will we       lose the intense natural interest children bring to the worlds of their imagination? (p. 19)
With so many concerned with the “fake news” flooding social media and the picture books written solely to sell toys there has never been a more important time for us to share the great works of art with our students.  I encourage all parents to share the experience of reading-aloud with their children.  This could be in the form of reading a picture book at night or even just taking thirty seconds to share a great line from a novel, movie review, or historical biography.  
For the month of December I will be sharing via Twitter some of the greatest lines from the most amazing stories I have encountered and I encourage everyone in our school community to do the same.  I will use the Twitter hashtag #ReadNR and I hope that we can engage as a community to share those lines from anything that we are reading aloud to our children, encountering in our favorite novels, journals, or newspaper articles.  It could be a line from a picture book or the closing words of a short story.   If you are not on Twitter please email me the line, up to 140 characters, at pdaly@nrpsk12.org and I’ll be happy to post it for you.
My first tweet is from a story I first read in the third grade.  It’s a book with opening and closing lines I’ve committed to memory.  It’s a story I read as a child, and again as a young adult, a college student, a new teacher, and now to my children.  It’s a book that is filled with language that makes me excited about reading.  Here are the final lines of Charlotte’s Web.
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” - E.B. White #ReadNR

You can follow Dr. Daly on Twitter @nrschools

School Start Times

One of the most pressing concerns for the well being of our students is the lack of sleep that many of our teenagers are receiving.  The National Sleep Foundation has recently presented information following a two-year world-class study that our teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night.  Studies have shown that, on average, teenagers receive about 7.5 hours each night.
The reasons for these sleep needs are rooted in biology.  According to the coalition group School Start Later (http://www.startschoollater.net):
Sleep research shows that adolescents have a different—and later—sleep cycle than younger children and adults.  This is not a matter of habit, lifestyle, or stubbornness. It’s a matter of biology and natural circadian rhythms. The hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for a typical teenager to fall asleep until after 11 pm and to wake up and be alert before around 8 am. Making them get up as early as 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus – right when they are in the deepest part of their sleep cycle - robs them of the deep sleep they need to grow and learn.
There are many possible implications for students who do not receive the proper amount of sleep. According to the School Start Later site:
Lack of sleep has serious repercussions on teenagers’ physical, mental and emotional health.  Sleep deprivation among teens is linked to depression, anxiety, susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, car accidents, stunted growth, and even obesity and diabetes.  Researchers found that sleep deprivation in adolescents leads to increases in so-called risky behaviors, including substance abuse, suicide ideation, suicide attempts and suicide.  Sleep deprivation also lowers impulse control and reaction times (important for those driving).  Student athletes who do not get at least 8 hours of sleep per night are at greater risk of sports-related injuries – 2.3 times higher risk for each additional grade in school.  Lack of consistent sleep also negatively affects students’ ability to think and learn.
Our district has been exploring this topic in several ways.  Our Superintendent, Jon Bernard, has led the way in the Cape Ann League by hosting several conversational meetings with other district Superintendents about the possibility of changing the school start times.  There are many logistical considerations involved with a change of the school start times that would impact busing, athletic and extra-curricular activities, and other events in the communities.  These meetings and conversations are the first step in exploring the possibilities for adjusting school start times.
Our social and emotional committee P.A.U.S.E. (Public Awareness and Understanding of Social Education) and our Wellness committee has also been exploring this topic in greater detail over the past several months.  One team focused on the topic of sleep and has been lead by parent member Marci Bailey, Middle School Principal Cathy O’Connell, and Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Cynthia Conant.  I have also had the pleasure of working closely with this group to develop a survey that was shared with high school students in the spring of 2016.
 This survey contained questions about the sleep habits, stress-levels, and well-being of our high school students.  The results of the survey have been collected and analyzed by our team and we will be sharing the data with the high school faculty, students, and school committee in the near future.  We believe there are many things that each member of our school community (teachers, parents, students, administrators) can do to help our students and we hope that our presentation will advance that conversation among all stakeholders. 
In addition, we will be forming a School Start Times committee to look specifically at the benefits and concerns generated by adjusting the school start times.  Many of the logistical obstacles, including after-school jobs and child-care, need to be considered.  There are several districts who have overcome these challenges and we will be looking to those case-studies as we explore the best decision for North Reading.

More specific information about the school start times committee will be forthcoming, however if you have interest in participating please contact me via email at pdaly@nrpsk12.org at any time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Educator Effectiveness

One of the aspects of my role as Assistant Superintendent is overseeing what the Department of Education refers to as Educator Effectiveness.  This includes everything from educator licensure, to mentoring, to educator evaluation and professional development.  There have been many great achievements in North Reading during the 2015-16 school year in these areas that I am am happy to share with the community.

Licensure

All of the educators in North Reading are highly qualified and have content area licenses in their primary area of teaching.  Educators work diligently to maintain their licenses by participating in workshops, taking courses, and working to develop curriculum.  There have been great
many efforts made at the state level to simplify and clarify the process for educators to obtain and maintain licensure.  Our office also maintains a database, called My Learning Plan (MLP), that tracks all of the professional development activities of the educators in the district.  Through an approval process the MLP database helps us to provide equity in the opportunities for all staff in North Reading and to maintain the highest levels of professional development for those working with our students.

Mentoring

Of the many aspects of the North Reading programs that I take pride in our mentoring program nears the top of my list.  With the guidance of our mentor coordinators, Beth Leavitt, Gina Sacco, and Jessie O’Brien, our program has grown and evolved each year.  Teachers new to North Reading are paired with a trained mentor educator in their first year and participate in a two-day orientation program followed by a year-long series of workshops and seminars.  In addition, the mentors visit the classrooms of the mentees to provide formative feedback, conduct conferences and check-ins, and help the new educators acclimate to North Reading and, in some cases, the profession.

In 2016-17 we will continue to improve our program by providing additional support to our new teachers in the years beyond their first year and updating our mentor seminars to include school safety, educator evaluation, licensure, and more.


Educator Evaluation

North Reading is finishing its third full year of the new educator evaluation system.  Over the past few years we have been learning and growing as a district as we have come to understand the new rubrics and how they help us to identify targets for growth for all educators and administrators.  We have worked to develop SMART goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, rigorous, results-oriented, timed and tracked.  During these last weeks in May and June educators are busy preparing their binders of evidence to share with evaluators who provide feedback to the eductor on his or her growth cycle.  This process, along with a continuous cycle of classroom visits for mini-observations, allows for the educators to receive on-going feedback and provides multiple opportunities for reflection and growth during the process.


Professional Development

This year the educators in North Reading have participated in a great deal of professional development opportunities.  Very specific training related to school safety, content area standards, and instruction have all been a part of the offerings during 2015-16.  Teachers in the areas of Art, Performing Arts, Health, Wellness, Library/Media and Digital Learning participated in the Northeast Professional Educators’ Network (NPEN) and received content areas professional development.  We introduced three North Reading University courses for in-district professional development in the areas of technology and digital learning, special education, and sheltered English immersion.  In addition, teachers took many courses offered through partnerships with the Salem Collaborative, SEEM Collaborative, and Primary Source. Nearly our entire administrative team took part in a multi-week Sheltered English Immersion course for Administrators, a course similar to the full graduate level course taken by many of our teachers.  

There were also many afternoons led by our curriculum leaders in each content area that allowed the teachers time to collaborate and explore our new Mathematics, English Language Arts and Literacy, and Science, Technology, and Engineering standards and discuss best practices in instruction.  The 2016-17 school year will see the continuation of all of these best practices in professional development.

The examples above highlight some of the many areas that the educators in North Reading are supported as professionals who are on a continuous cycle of improvement.  Many of our veteran educators are mentors or take the lead as curriculum leaders, team leaders, or facilitators of professional development.  We are very proud of the great work going on in our district and of the educators who lead, partake, and reflect upon these many opportunities for growth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mathematics Family Nights

If you’ve been on social media lately you’ve probably seen posts from parents who are frustrated while helping their children with their mathematics homework.  It appears that there is a “new way” of doing math that is different from the “old way” that many parents learned when they were in school.  In reality, the changes are not as extreme as is often portrayed but it is still important that we take time to learn together as a community about some new approaches and how this is helping our students to learn.

On the evenings of April 27th, May 25th and June 16th from 5:30pm-6:30pm our goal is to have a series of Mathematics Family Nights for parents to learn more about the shifts in teaching of Mathematics, the reasons for these shifts, and most importantly, how understanding these shifts will help us to better support our students.

These workshops will take place at North Reading High School and will feature classroom teachers and Title 1 Math support teachers at all levels (elementary, middle, and high school).  Parents will be able to sign up for and attend sessions at the level(s) of their choosing.  

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics offers some wonderful supports for educators and families in order to understand new or unfamiliar mathematics concepts.  A series of videos, available here: http://bit.ly/1CWNyRh provide insgihts into many topics that are very important including:

The world that our students will be entering for college and careers will require a very different set of mathematical skills for a greater number of students than was ever required in the past.  A deeper, conceptual understanding of mathematics is required in order for students to progress to higher levels of mathematics.  In North Reading, our educators are preparing students to think in many ways and to foster this conceptual understanding so that the traditional mathematics concepts of higher level mathematics will be more accessible to a greater number of students than ever before.  The careers that await our students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics certainly will require this greater level of comfort and enjoyment of mathematics that these new approaches strive to build.

Please join us on any or all of the family mathematics nights to learn more.  Please use this sign-up link in order for us to best prepare for our audience on each evening: http://bit.ly/1UwgbS8.  More information will also be coming soon through our outreach emails.  We look forward to seeing you and learning more together as a community of support for our students.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Introducing MCAS 2.0

On November 17, 2015 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made the decision to support the recommendation of the Commissioner of Education to move forward with a next generation MCAS test for all students, MCAS 2.0.

For the past two years Massachusetts has been “test-driving” a new assessment called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) which measures student performance on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  These are the standards on which Massachusetts modeled its 2011 Frameworks in Mathematics and English Language Arts. 

This next-generation assessment allows the state to retain control over the content of the questions and many elements of the test while also utilizing much of the PARCC tool that a Massachusetts team of PARCC fellows helped to build. 

The decision calls for online testing for all students in 2019 with a plan to help schools and districts improve their technology infrastructure in the meantime.  In order to best prepare for the next generation assessment, which is still in development, many districts in Massachusetts will be taking the PARCC assessment in 2016 for grades 3-8.  Schools will be able to choose computer- or paper-based assessment for the format of the test.

So what does this mean for North Reading?

       Having experienced PARCC in 2014 and 2015, North Reading students and educators are better prepared for the PARCC in 2016 and the style of the next generation MCAS in the future as all indications that this assessment will resemble PARCC in many ways.
       Computer-based testing is challenging in that it is an entirely new mode of test-taking for many students.  As we transition to all students using computers in 2019 we should understand the significance of this variable for students.
       Students in grades 3-8 in North Reading will take PARCC for ELA and Mathematics.  Grade 10 students will take MCAS in the spring of 2016.
       Science in grades 5, 8, and high school will also still be MCAS
       Students taking the Alternative MCAS (MCAS Alt.) and the ACCESS test for English Language Learners will continue to take those assessments
       Districts and schools taking PARCC 3-8 will be “held harmless” in terms of accountability during this time of transition.  This means that a level one school will remain level one and that a level two school can only move up.
       Low participation rates can negatively impact a school’s accountability level (example: move down from level one to level two if participation rates are too low)

North Reading educators in grades 3-9 will continue to look at data from the 2015 PARCC assessment in order to better understand the needs of our students and also the effectiveness of our curriculum.  As PARCC is a developing assessment there are many improvements that are still needed in order to make that assessment, or a next generation MCAS, meaningful for our students, teachers, and the entire school community.  Our district will continue to collect feedback from all stakeholders in order to have a voice in the conversation about the development of state assessments in order to create the best possible outcome for our students.

Up-to-date information about student assessments can always be found on our district website http://www.north-reading.k12.ma.us/ on the Assistant Superintendent’s page.