Sills Gives Mid-Year Report on District Goals

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

District goals—derived from last year’s improvement plans from each of the four schools—were assessed in a presentation to the School Committee by Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills on Tuesday night. In all, these goals fall into six categories:

  • Governance and Leadership
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Assessment and Evaluation
  • Student Support
  • Human Resources and Professional Development
  • Finance and Asset Management.

Sills said that the categories—and the action items related to them—are mission-driven and within the culture of Bedford education, which “builds on excellence.”

“This begins with clarity about what our mission is and involves ongoing work to create curricular coherence,” Sills said. “The best way to [achieve this] is through collaboration that’s both structured and informal for teachers. An important part of that collaborative work is reviewing how well students are doing—both by looking at the work that students are producing and by looking at quantitative data and making decisions about how to improve instruction accordingly.”

Sills said that communication with parents and the community at large is also important to support educational excellence.

Governance and Leadership: Support for the first year principals at Bedford High and John Glenn Middle School (JGMS) and the hiring of a new Davis School principal topped this year’s list of leadership priorities. Sills also announced that interim Assistant Superintendent Claire Jackson will stay on for another year and that her work spearheading curriculum coherency and Common Core alignment has been vital.

“Having her continue that work for a second year will be in the best interest of the kids of Bedford, so I’m thrilled that [she has agreed to stay],” Sills said of Jackson’s extended tenure.

Sills also reported that Denise Oldham has been named Special Education Director for the coming year. Oldham is currently Assistant Director and is familiar with both the district and the families she will continue to serve as Director.

In another area of leadership, Bedford—as a Race to the Top district and early adopter of the Common Core standards—must implement a new model of teacher evaluations earlier than other districts in the state. To that end—and to make the process as productive as possible—the entire faculty has been engaged in a process that Sills called “unpacking the rubric.”

“What that means is that—unlike previous evaluations—teachers, principals and superintendents are all going to be rated according to a rubric which has descriptive language around teaching and learning, professional development, leadership, supporting all students and communicating with parents,” Sills said.

“What the faculties are doing, in what is actually a terrific process, is identifying what the behaviors are that you would see if you went into a class where a teacher is proficient in delivering a well-structured lesson. They are identifying the teacher behaviors and also the student behaviors,” Sills added.

Other areas of focus in leadership and governance are the creation of a committee to examine the JGMS schedule, a teacher “common planning” block at Davis School, the restructuring of the IT department, the second year of the BHS Tenacity Challenge for students of color,  and the implementation and challenges associated with the new state and federal nutrition standards.

Curriculum and Instruction: Sills reported that ongoing Common Core alignment work will continue over the summer and that Math, English Language Arts, and Reading committees are reviewing curriculum scope and sequence. Increased phonics instruction from K–3 will be an emphasis in the coming years.

The transitions from one school to the next were noted as areas of concern and Sills said that the schools must not see themselves as operating independently from one another. Assistant Superintendent Jackson has been working with the schools for better alignment and curriculum flow.

Sills commented on how the Common Core is affecting students when concepts are introduced and mastered, especially in the lower grades. “The Common Core is actually a very thoughtful set of standards but, as you know, it is pushing learning standards down into the lower grades that were in the higher grades before. This is one of the main reasons why we needed to go to a fifth day of kindergarten, because there are now very demanding learning standards for kindergarten and Bedford is determined to hold on to play for social-emotional, developmentally appropriate instruction.”

The Technology 2012 Plan is also under reconsideration, Sills said, due to a desire to revisit how the district allocates its resources. “As technology moves so rapidly, certain assumptions that we made about what the next steps are need to be examined to see whether the priorities are the same [as they were when the plan was developed.]”

Assessment and Evaluation: Much of the focus in this category has been to identify ways to gear assessment more toward process rather than result. In other words, feedback during assignments—to both the student and the teacher—rather than only at the end will become an emphasis. This is a fundamental shift, Sills said.

Tasks to demonstrate understanding—rather than relying primarily on paper and pencil tests—will increase as a form of assessment. Sills also said that the midterm and final [exam] policy at Bedford High School will be examined, but for now work in this area has been postponed due to higher priorities.

Student Support:  At the Lane and Davis schools, the “WIN” or “What I Need” block for early intervention is in its second year of implementation. This is a period when students who have not been successful—as well as those who would benefit from a particular form of enrichment—can receive attention. “Teachers are still working on how to get this right,” Sills said. “That level of differentiation is very difficult, but it’s a major goal to do this as effectively as possible.”

Assistance with chronic homework avoidance is a program at Bedford High that requires more personnel for proper implementation. Currently, the program is meeting the needs of only about a dozen students, but Sills said that, for these students, the program is the difference between sinking and swimming.

Additional staff time for adjustment counseling at JGMS and BHS has been budgeted for next year, as has additional guidance staff to accommodate the increase in population at the high school. At JGMS, a learning strategy program called SOS has been redesigned this year for all sixth graders. Improved collaboration between regular education and special education teachers is another goal.

Sills reported that efforts to strengthen Bedford High’s position with regard to college admission have paid off again this year with the result that students have been accepted to a wide range of schools, including places like Brown, Princeton and Yale, where Bedford has not traditionally been successful.

Efforts are being examined to increase the culture of tolerance and empathy through the Peer Leader program and Interact at BHS and student organizations at JGMS.

Human Resources and Professional Development: In the second year of early-release Wednesdays, a tremendous amount of creative and collaborative work is taking place across the school district, according to Sills. The activities during half of the release time have been directed by the principals and during the other half have been organized by the teachers themselves.

At each of the schools, teachers have done professional development work dealing with social-emotional development such as student anxiety and stress.

Finance and Asset Management: The school budget, supported by the Finance Committee and headed for Town Meeting on April 1, takes into account state and federal mandates, enrollment increases, an increasingly complex student population, and the maintenance of in-house Special Education programs as well as regular education programs. A fifth full day of kindergarten is also supported by the budget.

The security of the buildings is being addressed by the Security Task Force in the form of improvements to front door infrastructure and building entry protocols.

Work by the Strategic Communications Task Force that addresses the need for increased reimbursement for the education of Hanscom students continues. A bill has been filed by State Representative Ken Gordon to make Hanscom student funding permanent, rather than remaining vulnerable to the vagaries of yearly budget battles.


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