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School District Goals: Higher-Order Thinking, Educational Equity, Professional Collaboration

2013 September 13
by The Bedford Citizen

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Superintendent Jon Sills - Image (c) Bedford Tv

Superintendent Jon Sills – Image (c) Bedford Tv

Following on his preliminary “System Goals” presentation last spring, Superintendent Jon Sills shared a reorganized and updated version with the School Committee on September 10, saying that the three goals of higher-order thinking, educational equity and professional collaboration were natural extensions of the district’s mission statement and best understood as a “cause and effect expression of what it is we’re trying to accomplish.”

The Bedford School System’s mission statement reads:

The Bedford Public Schools develop skillful, reflective, lifelong learners who think critically and creatively and who are informed, responsible, and productive global citizens.

The school community provides a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment in which the unique intellectual, social, ethical, and emotional growth of each learner is realized.

Sills followed the reading of the mission statement with a “theory of action” statement that is structured using a progression of cause-and-effect logic:

Theory of Action

If the system hires and supports passionate, skillful and knowledgeable teachers who personalize learning and regularly share student-centered instructional strategies and common authentic assessments that enable all students to develop higher order thinking skills and content understanding; and if deliberate steps are taken to address diverse learning needs, promote cultural proficiency and close achievement gaps while maintaining high expectations, then all students will become knowledgeable, reflective, responsible, adept and discerning learners.

“This is not a theory of action that all school systems ascribe to,” Sill explained. “In fact, it runs counter to certain prevailing theories of action that exist nationally. Other districts might say, ‘If we hold teachers accountable, if we have strict management and strict accountability systems, if we use endless amounts of data, then we will raise student achievement.’ It doesn’t say what kind of student achievement—it’s just abstract student achievement.

“This [theory of action being presented tonight] is actually very specific to Bedford,” Sills continued, “and it reflects the values I believe are the School Committee’s and the district administration’s. It is because of these values that the School Committee put an emphasis on hiring strong teachers and the administration put an emphasis on developing a culture of collaboration. . . . This truly is an expression of our shared theory of education.”

The Superintendent then listed the strategic objectives that focus on developing greater coherence for a curriculum that emphasizes higher order thinking and student-centered learning as well as educational equity for the teaching of all students and on improving upon the collaborative professional culture.

To demonstrate one area in which the professional culture is being actively developed, Sills said although a collaborative atmosphere has been present there for quite some time, Bedford High School principal Henry Turner is “taking it to a whole new level with formalized professional communities [that] share strategies.”

“All teachers are developing team goals regarding student achievement based on [commonly agreed-upon assessments],” Sills added. “And most teachers are creating shared, professional practice goals. At every level, collaboration is reinforced.”

Sills also provided goals within a third and final category—facilities, organization and fiscal management:

  • Implement capital improvements identified in the FY2014 capital expenditures plan.
  • Analyze demographic data to determine causes and implications of increased Kindergarten numbers and review space needs accordingly.
  • Continue to review space needs at JGMS.
  • Complete implementation of Security Task Force/School Committee Adopted Recommendations.
  • Develop and obtain an effective budget to address identified needs including meeting state and federal mandates, educating an increasingly complex student population, and addressing class size issues.
  • Ensure effective schedules at all four schools to optimize time for student learning and teacher collaboration.

Providing feedback to the goals document, School Committee member Michael McAllister said, “When you see it on three sheets of paper, it gives an assurance that there’s a clear vision, there are clear action steps happening, and that one thing is leading directly to another. I am sure you could probably add another fifteen sheets to this that are happening on the ground level. It’s not just haphazard. There are a lot of ideas packed in there.”

The School Committee asked Sills to provide self-assessment grades throughout the year as the goals and initiatives are implemented.

For a full copy of the District Goals 2013-2014 document, visit this page on the Bedford Schools’ website: http://www.bedford.k12.ma.us/images/stories/pdfs/super/District_Goals_doc_13-14.pdf

NOTE: School Committee meetings are televised on Bedford’s local access station. To check the broadcast schedule, click on the TV Guide link:  http://dh.bedford.tv/

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