Superintendent Taymore’s Entry Report

Here is the report that Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore presented at this week’s School Committee meeting.

Melrose Public Schools
Superintendent’s Entry Plan Report
February 5, 2013

Part I: Introduction

The entry of a new Superintendent into any district is a multi-step process that encompasses learning about the district, identifying strengths and challenges, and planning in response to those findings, all the while providing leadership to the district and attending to the daily demands of the job. As we know, my entry into the Melrose Public Schools was a little more unusual than the transitions of other Superintendents, given the extensive changes in administration. I would like to express my appreciation for the support that the School Committee, the city administration, the community, staff, parents, and students have given me over the past nine months. I would also like to thank the many people in Melrose who were gracious and candid in sharing with me their knowledge and opinions regarding the Melrose Public Schools.

Entry Process

Prior to my actual start date of July 1, 2012, I spent many hours in Melrose working with Joseph Casey, the outgoing Superintendent. Mr. Casey was thoughtful and open in sharing with me operational details as well as his knowledge of Melrose. He included me in many of the year-end activities so that I would have a head start on my transition. At that time, the district was searching for three elementary principals and a Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Mr. Casey invited me to participate in the process so that I could help choose members of my future administrative team. Unfortunately, at that time, we did not know we would need to hire six more members of the team.

Because of the tremendous amount of change that was occurring at the time of my transition and the need to reassure the community, I proposed to the School Committee in July a 100-Day Plan (Appendix I). The purpose of the plan was to provide clear communications to the community regarding my transition. The plan focused on four areas: 1.) Strengthen the use of data to drive teaching and learning; 2.) Develop an effective system to evaluate teacher performance and improve student outcomes; 3.) Accelerate implementation of the new Massachusetts Frameworks and Common Core; and 4.) Increase communications and discourse. Monthly reports were submitted to the School Committee between August and November 2012.

At the same time, I developed an Entry Plan as required by the New Superintendents’ Induction Program. This Entry Plan (Appendix II) included meetings with members of the Melrose Schools, Melrose City Administration, and the Melrose community; the review of district documents and an analysis of student data; and visits to buildings and individual classrooms. Additionally, I decided in November that the district would administer the Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment that is available from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Appendix III).

As stated in my Entry Plan, the overarching goal was to develop a comprehensive understanding of both the Melrose Public Schools and the City of Melrose. The specific goals for my entry plan were:

• To expand my knowledge and understanding of the district and city while fulfilling my obligations as an active and engaged Superintendent
• To identify the strengths and priorities across the district, including those traditions that are most prized
• To identify the gaps and challenges within teaching and learning across all levels
• To identify strengths and weaknesses in management and operations that hinder progress and efficiency
• To prioritize goals and objectives and develop realistic and effective action plans
• To improve communications both internally and externally in order to build confidence

The results of this process are outlined in this report. The process has enabled me to establish a community presence and develop relationships with stakeholders, assess the district’s strengths and challenges, and to identify critical areas that required immediate attention. Moreover, the process has provided me with a foundation of knowledge and understanding that, in concert with the district’s mission statement and core values as well as my own core values, should guide us in the development and implementation of short and long-term strategic goals.

District Mission Statement and Core Values

In 2010 the Melrose Public Schools developed a five-year strategic plan with a mission statement and core values. The mission of the Melrose Public Schools states:
We inspire, engage, support, prepare and challenge all students to achieve personal and academic excellence, to become life-long learners, and to be responsible, respectful and successful participants in our global community.

The Core Values of the Melrose Public Schools provide a framework for how we behave as a school community who values all students and set high standards and expectations.

Core Values

• All students can learn.
• All students can achieve personal learning success.
• Quality and reflective teaching is essential in helping students reach academic and
personal success.
• Rigorous, relevant and research-based curricula promote quality learning for all.
• Honesty and integrity guide our individual and group actions, interactions and decisions.
• By working collaboratively and collegially, we will be better able to overcome obstacles,
solve problems and achieve goals.
• We honor and celebrate differences, respect individuality and take pride in and respect
ourselves, each other, our schools, our work, and our environment.
• Strong, respectful partnerships between educators and parents are critical to the successful
education of children.
• Ongoing and meaningful collaboration and communication between educators and
community members promote a dynamic school system.

My own core values, although succinct, echo the district’s. These values have guided me through my career and are the basis for my belief that every child deserves the best education we can provide him/her.

• All students can learn and succeed regardless of ability, challenges, background or circumstances.
• All students have a right to a rigorous, challenging, and engaging education.
• All adults want to do the best we can so children can learn and grow.
• Professionalism, collaboration within and between buildings, and open, respectful, and honest dialogue are a necessity for doing this work.

Conclusion

While the Entry Plan provides the methodology by which a new Superintendent can observe, listen, and learn about the district and community, the Entry Plan Report outlines the findings so that the Superintendent, the School Committee, the Administrative Team, and the school community may celebrate the district’s strengths, identify our challenges, begin to explore ideas, and develop strategy to raise our expectations and standards for instruction and student learning throughout the district. Accordingly, the Entry Plan Report is the second phase of a three-step process. The third phase will be when the School Committee, the Superintendent, and the Administrative Team amend the strategic plan and adjust both district and individual goals so that we may advance the achievement of all learners.
The ultimate goal of the multi-step entry process is to enable the school district to develop a strategy of action that will improve the instructional core for all students. The instructional core is defined as “the interaction of teachers (instructional practices) and students in the presence of content (curriculum).” (Curtis and City, Strategy in Action, p. 7). It is usually drawn as a triangle with the core in the center and teachers, students and content at each of the triangle’s points. And while this may be viewed as a simplified definition of a complex and complicated enterprise, it is the heart of the matter. A successful school system requires continuously trained educators who possess a strong understanding of well-developed and aligned content and are skilled in providing student centered instruction. All decisions should converge on the interactions among these three elements so that we can build the school system we desire.

Part II: Findings

It is important to note that the Melrose Public Schools has worked diligently over the past six years to address foundational issues and create a platform on which we can continue to grow. The Strategic Plan for 2010 to 2015 articulates a clear vision for Melrose Public Schools and is intended to guide the development of a comprehensive school system that prepares children for a world that none of us can predict. However, numerous changes in policy and regulations at the state and federal level will have an effect on the many decisions we make when setting local priorities and designing strategies to achieve our district and individual goals.

Among the more recent policies, programs, and regulations impacting local districts are Race to the Top in which we participate; the revised Massachusetts Frameworks incorporating the Common Core Standards; the spring 2013 release of the new Science Common Core Standards; the new state-wide Educator Evaluation System that clearly articulates the high expectations and standards required for teaching and learning; the launching of EDWIN, the state’s teaching and learning platform, that provides and collects information regarding student data, curriculum, and assessment; RETELL, the U.S. Department of Justice requirement that Massachusetts redesign the delivery of English as a Second Language instruction; the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support (MTSS), the state’s best practice model comprised of a multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral supports for meeting the individual needs of all students; new accountability requirements for improving student achievement; and the impending replacement of the MCAS with the PARCC assessments.

For the purpose of reporting, my findings are divided into two broad categories: Strengths and Challenges. Each section is further divided into subcategories and topics. In actuality, all these factors overlap, are interdependent, and collectively influence the work of staff and students.

Strengths

Environmental Strength

1. The City of Melrose

Melrose as a city is a strength for the district. As a whole, the city provides its families and children with a safe, citizen focused environment that values education, civic and cultural events, and community involvement. The city has, within the best of its ability, provided the schools with facilities, playing and recreational fields, financial and community support. Two community organizations are unique to Melrose: The Bridge, which recruits and organizes school volunteers throughout the district, and Education Stations, which offers afterschool and summer programming. Both these programs enable the district to enhance learning for many of our students during the day, after school, and in the summer. Parent Teacher Organizations, the Melrose Education Coalition, various parent booster clubs, nonprofit organizations such as Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as many city departments, provide the schools with support and a willingness to help however they can. Community organizations provide our students with a range of opportunities that involve sports, clubs, artistic endeavors, and civic involvement.

District Strengths

1. Melrose Public Schools and the School Community

Academically, the Melrose Public Schools employs highly qualified teachers who are dedicated to their students’ growth and well being. While the Administrative Team has eleven (out of fifteen) new members, it is becoming a collaborative and professional learning community committed to improving our students’ academic and personal experiences. The department heads for the core curriculum areas are skilled, with a solid understanding of current practices and the needs of a 21st century education. In particular, Melrose High School’s foreign language program, its Global Education in Melrose (GEM) program, the new STEM track and fifteen Advanced Placement courses are hidden jewels about which not enough people know. Melrose’s METCO program and the success of our METCO students are also a plus for the district. The middle school’s faculty provides our young people with the support and encouragement they need to safely explore their interests and test their limits. The Middle School’s tradition of community service is a source of pride. Other positives include a well-developed athletic program and a wide range of extracurricular activities, including foreign exchanges and travel opportunities, and a strong music, performing, and visual arts component. Class sizes with a few exceptions at the secondary level are comparatively small. Our elementary schools have engaged, committed parents who support the schools and staff, helping to enhance both academic and social learning and to produce a positive and memorable experience for all children. Because of their relatively small size, our elementary schools are able to provide a closely knit and nurturing learning environment for our students. Lastly, the Franklin Early Childhood Center is a leader in early childhood education and a valued asset for the city as a whole. Overall, the city and schools provide our students with a caring, respectful, and inclusive learning community that is invested in our students’ academic and social-emotional development.

Challenges

Operational and Management Challenges

1. Operational Budget

Financially, the district will continue to be challenged by an unpredictable fiscal recovery, impeding cuts in state and federal spending, increasing demands for resources and a loss of funding from declining grant sources, especially the Title grant programs. With a paradigm shift in teaching and learning, we will need sufficient funding for professional development so that the staff is appropriately trained in curriculum, instruction, and assessment and can help all students regardless of background, ability, or need to achieve success. At the same time, we should review our staffing distribution and identify specific areas for training and development. In reviewing our staffing needs we need to consider a number of current and impending changes to education, such as the new graduation requirements under MASSCore; the Common Core’s emphasis on digital literacy and research skills; our alignment to the revised Massachusetts Frameworks including new STEM standards; the development of alternative instructional methodologies including virtual and blended learning; the increased demands placed on administrators by the new educator evaluation system; the growth in the English Language Learners population and required changes in ESL instruction; the development of an integrated and flexible instructional model as proposed in the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support; and a need to expand our resources for students with social emotional challenges.

2. Instructional Technology and Systemic Technology

The demands of a 21st century education as well as the impending changes to state testing will require a review of our technology needs. Preliminary technology guidelines for the new assessments have been issued. This is a national concern as few districts have the capacity required. In conjunction with the needs assessment, the district will be developing a five-year technology plan that examines and plans the use of technology as an instructional tool. We are forming a technology council that will have the skills and knowledge needed to develop our plan and to set priorities. Most likely, recommendations in the plan along with the national shift to digital curriculum resources will have impact the district’s strategy for improving teaching and learning.

Central Office operations have required more immediate attention. The internal controls review by Sullivan and Rogers has made recommendations for the increased use of MUNIS so that budgeting, expenditures, purchasing, and personnel costs are more transparent and easier to track. This will require training for the central office and building level staff. In conjunction with this effort, we have redesigned the budget process so that the actual costs per building are more accurately reported and the total cost of operations as well as the funding sources is more transparent.

3. Human Resources Management

Another operational matter that needed immediate attention was hiring practices. The process has been tightened with better central office tracking and the requirement that the recommended candidate has a final interview with me. We still need to create a bank of updated job descriptions and an employee handbook.

4. Facilities

On July 1, 2012, the Department of Public Works assumed responsibility for the maintaining the school buildings. The Public Works Director and the new Facilities Manager have been great partners in addressing many of the maintenance issues. Some areas of fiscal responsibility still need to be resolved, especially when an unexpected cost is incurred.

Other facility concerns are being addressed over time as outlined in the City’s Five Year Capital Plan: Fiscal Years FY 2011-FY 2015. Among the items recently completed are new lights, updated HVAC systems, and painting in many of our buildings. As we know, the High School’s most recent NEASC report states their belief that the 1975 design of the building has a negative impact on instruction. The renovation of the science wing beginning this February and the planned renovation of the Resource Center (library) in 2015 will address some of the concerns. This winter, the City will conduct a feasibility study of the entire high school so that priorities can be set and building issues may be addressed over time and within the City’s ability to pay for individual projects.

Adaptive Challenges

1. Leadership Continuity

The change in leadership has brought its own set of challenges. With eleven members of the Administrative Team that are either new to the district and/or new to the position, community members, including staff and parents, were concerned about continuity and the district’s ability to attract and retain staff. The revised pay scale for administrators should help address that when we begin the searches for permanent replacements in four administrative positions. Unfortunately, in an increasingly mobile society, the prospect of someone starting and finishing his/her career in Melrose or any one district is becoming less likely. We need committed administrators, curriculum directors, and teacher leaders to support and lead us in our efforts to raise rigor, maintain high standards, and continually improve our teaching and learning. In Melrose, the lack of a well-developed, multi-step career track within the system contributes to the challenge for continuity. This is a matter that needs to be addressed structurally and fiscally.

2. Educator Evaluation

For staff, including administrators, the most challenging adaptive change may be the new Educator Evaluation System. As a Race to the Top community, we are required to implement the system this year. The new system is regarded as the culmination of developments and shifts in education that have been occurring the past twenty or so years. The system provides explicit descriptors of proficient practice. All licensed educators are now responsible for their own professional development and subsequent success in developing an individual and collaborative practice that is deemed proficient or exemplary. To do this, the new system requires educators to participate in a five-step cycle of continuous improvement that includes self-assessment; analysis, goal setting, and plans development; implementation of the plan; formative assessment; and summative assessment. Additionally, team goals are encouraged, especially for student outcome improvements. The new system is being phased in over three years. This year all licensed educators focus on professional growth goals; next year, we add student outcome goals based on data; and in the third year, we add feedback from student and staff surveys. Needless to say, uncertainty, and anxiety accompany this change in professional expectations and evaluation. We have been providing professional development to the staff and working with the union to help everyone become familiar and comfortable with the new system.

Teaching and Learning Challenges

1. Higher Expectations and Standards

A corollary to the change in leadership is the change in expectations for teaching and learning. Many of the new administrators came from districts that were actively engaged in teaching and learning practices that are not widespread in Melrose. Districts that have had more academic and social challenges were required under federal and state accountability regulations to participate in intensive self-assessment and reflection regarding student achievement, curriculum alignment, instructional strategies, and data analysis and to improve or change curriculum and instructional practices, sometimes extensively. With the required implementation of the state and federal changes listed above, our administrators and staff have begun a similar shift so that we may provide the curriculum and instruction necessary to meet the new standards and higher expectations. The goal is improved academic and personal outcomes for all children. The challenge for all is how we do this in a manner that allows us to be thoughtful and thorough, build capacity, but also meet state and federal accountability requirements in a timely manner.

2. Continuous Professional Growth

Underlying the new Educator Evaluation System’s emphasis on continuous professional growth is the expectation that in order to improve instruction and student achievement teachers will be active participants in a Professional Learning Community with shared expectations, understandings, practices, and goals. The vision and core values described in the district’s strategic plan should be adopted and supported by all members of our community. The district, functioning as a learning community, needs to be engaged in constant self-assessment and improvement, holding themselves and each other accountable for our students’ achievement. This is a cultural change for teaching as a profession, not just Melrose. We have begun to build our PLC through building level discussions, data teams, district wide professional development, and the new educator evaluation system.

3. Rigor and Equity

I believe that the need to increase rigor and provide equity across the district is the most important challenge we face at every level and for every population. If there is a consistent theme unearthed during the entry process, it was that the community would like the Melrose Public Schools to be a respected, responsive, competitive, and comprehensive school system in which all learners are valued and can succeed.
While we need to delve deeper into our challenges, we also could not wait to address some of the concerns. In an effort to structure our work this year, the Administrative Team decided to focus on three goals from the strategic plan:

• A Pre-K-12 assessment system and accompanying rubrics are developed, piloted and in use in relation to grade level skills and strategies/course outcomes.
• Common methods for using data to inform instruction and improve student performance are established and in use by teachers and administrators.
• System-wide tiered academic and behavioral approaches using Student Support intervention Teams and clearly delineated academic, emotional, physical and social protocols and procedures are developed, piloted and implemented.

In support of these three goals, we have undertaken a number of actions:

• The district has established two professional development institutes, a K-5 institute centered on literacy instruction, and a secondary institute centered on content area literacy.
• Principals and Department Chairs are working on aligning the curriculum, developing common assessments, and modeling student centered instructional practices.
• The district purchased the Global Scholars data system so that we can generate assessments aligned with the new curriculum standards and track student outcomes. The staff is being trained to use the database.
• Principals, department chairs, and teachers continue to work on mapping content areas and developing scope and sequence guides.
• Principals have created more opportunities for grade level and vertical teams to meet and collaborate.
• Administrators and department chairs are reviewing our curricula resources to determine where we match the new frameworks and where we need additional materials.
• Principals have restructured the elementary school schedule to include a literacy block and have created more consistency in curriculum and practice across all five schools.
• Principals have developed data teams at all five elementary schools to look at student work and identify instructional concerns.
• The Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Principals, with input from staff and site councils, revised the elementary school report card to align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks’ new benchmarks and expected outcomes by grade level.
• At the secondary level, the department chairs are leading discussions about student data and achievement.
• The Middle and High School staffs are piloting common midterm and final assessments.
• The Middle and High School staffs will be reexamining the middle and high school schedules and course offerings for alignment as well as opportunities for students with diverse learning needs.
• The staff throughout the district is engaged in conversation about the why, the what, and the how of our work.

As a result of this work, students are experiencing curriculum that is more constant across grades and classes, better aligned, and more challenging; staff are gathering more data and using it to inform instruction; and we are all engaged in more discussion about what makes teaching and learning rigorous. However, we still have much to do before we have fully articulated and embedded system wide the challenging curriculum and best instructional practices needed to benefit every student.

Part III: Last Impressions

All of the challenges listed under Operational and Management Challenges, Adaptive Challenges, and Teaching and Learning have a direct bearing on our ability to create the school system we envision. And while all the steps taken to date are helping to improve the instructional core, they are not a cohesive plan. In phase three of the entry plan, we will need to set priorities and revise and/or adapt the current strategic plan. We need to develop a logical and realistic strategy with clear, specific action steps for improving teaching and learning in the Melrose Public Schools. As stated earlier, our goal is to develop a district with continuously trained educators who possess a strong understanding of well-developed and aligned content and are skilled in providing student centered instruction.
With this in mind, I complete this phase of the entry process with the following impressions:

• The Melrose community as a whole is highly invested in the success of its school system.
• The Melrose community is proud of the city, its values, and the culture they have built.
• Members of the community want a school system that they believe is challenging, yet caring; provides all students with opportunity and access; and has high expectations for both staff and students.
• Members of the community want clarity, transparency, and a vigorous discussion of what is best for the Melrose Public Schools.

At the national, state, and local level, education is undergoing tremendous changes. As the world continues to “flatten,” it becomes more important that we develop a flexible, responsive, creative, and rigorous system that provides our students with the knowledge and skills to be competitive, collaborative, and adaptive in their future lives. Accomplishing this system will take time, effort, and resources. Nonetheless, since the mid-18th century, Melrose has prided itself on the quality of life it has built and maintains for its residents. I look forward to being part of this tradition as we work together to develop a system that serves our students and the city well.

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