Looking Ahead: What’s in Store for Our Schools Next Year?

BedfordPublicSchoolsimageBy Mitch Evans

With only a few weeks left in school and just one remaining school committee meeting on Tuesday June 9 , this academic year is drawing to a close.

At the last three meetings the principals of our four schools have reflected on the past 10 months and presented their school improvement plans for the coming 2015/16 year. Here is a quick recap on some of the main points covered by each school. As always, you can view the full presentations via Bedford TV on YouTube.com.

Grades K-2: Lt. Eleazer Davis School, Principal Beth Benoit
Presented at School Committee Meeting (5/19/15)

Highlights from this year include the successful use of new, grade level cluster teams. These groups have been meeting on a weekly basis to discuss grade specific curriculum implementation, interventions and assessments. This has led to an effective use of staff planning time and a more efficient use of shared resources. The cluster team structure will continue in the next academic year. Principal Benoit also reported that there was an overall reduction in the number of assessments at Davis this year .Teachers were encouraged to identify the most meaningful evaluations, those which allow for more open answers and which engage the students in conversations and deeper thinking.

Davis and Lane schools have collaborated this year and introduced quarterly school themes, on the subjects of differences and diversity, understanding your own identity, justice and what this means  (how to be a good friend) and taking action (how to do this).  In line with these themes, some powerful new read-aloud books have been introduced into the curriculum across all Davis grades. Teachers have reported being engaged in deeper conversations within the classroom and these have culminated in several community engagement projects. A quarterly all-school assembly celebrated the work that the children had been doing for that quarter’s theme. This new curriculum content will continue next year.

2015/16 will also see the introduction of a new program at Davis for students with autism and related disabilities. School staff will be receiving focused training and professional development over the coming weeks, to ensure that this new inclusion program is a success.

Grades 3-5: Lt.Job Lane School, Principal Rob Ackerman
Presented at School Committee Meeting (5/19/15)

Lane school started the year with a successful multicultural themed summer reading program. Teacher collaboration between Lane and Davis resulted in a book list which reflected the district’s goal to increase students’ exposure to a wide variety of cultures. This program will be repeated again over the summer. The Citizen also reported on several community outreach events – the first ever Veteran’s Day assembly with members of the military meeting and sharing their stories with Lane students. Plus, the Women in Science event, where a female scientist was invited into school to talk about her experiences and share her knowledge with all the Lane students. Last year saw the first, fifth grade ‘Invention Convention’ at Lane. This is different from the traditional Science Fair held in other districts because students are expected to work on their invention ideas at school (not at home with parents) and all fifth grade students take part.

Other Lane School goals include the introduction of a new style, standards based report card for next year. This card will be coming home to parents in December 2015. The current report has a mixture of numbers and letters, and it is hoped that the new card will provide a more detailed description of students’ achievements and comprehension.

In order to ensure that all students are meeting their grade level learning expectations, Principal Ackerman also discussed the introduction of a new, after school club, starting at Lane in September.This club will help students with homework challenges and will provide remediation support, as required.  In response to a SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council) request, Lane will also be reviewing their Response to Intervention processes. This will ensure clarity and better communication with parents on the support structures made available to students.

Grades 6-8: John Glenn Middle School, Principal Kevin Tracey
Presented at School Committee Meeting (5/5/15)

The presentation started with praise for the new student advisory committee. This committee actively seeks students’ input on ways in which school culture can be improved and has been the driving force behind several new initiatives, including  monthly themed topics such as stress management, honor and integrity, as well as ways to engage students in activities that build civic awareness and responsibility.

In a bid to foster an even more positive school culture, Principal Tracey requested that the annual Academic Recognition Night, usually held at the end of 8th grade, be put on hold in 2015/16. He explained that a committee of parents, students and staff would be set up to examine the way in which JGMS celebrates students’ success.

To more effectively meet the needs of all students, there will be a modification to the way students are grouped in 6th grade. In order to obtain more heterogeneity in all core subjects, there will be no more learning groups. Instead, class grouping will be built around three pieces of data; a student’s ability to ‘independently pick up new skills and concepts’ , input from the teachers and guidance counselors at Lane, and  data from Aspen, which is the student information database. The only exception to this new process is the Advanced Math class.
This fall will also see the piloting of a new, team teaching model of inclusion. Some students from the special education program, along with specially trained support staff, will be moved into the 6th grade general education math classroom. This change is in line with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA) which ensures, where appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled.

The Skill Center was praised for its success this year. Approximately one fifth of the 2014/15 JGMS student population uses the Skill Center at some stage. The center offers help for students via three main programs:  MCAS exam support , the EXCEL program, which challenges and supports students to take a level above the class they are currently enrolled in, and its Targeted Academic Intervention program. Students must be referred by teachers and guidance counsellors. The middle school will continue to expand the skill center support and enrichment programs next year.

Grades 9-12: Bedford High School,Principal Henry Turner, Ph.D.
Presented at School Committee Meeting (5/26/15)

Principal Turner recapped  the accomplishments of his students and staff during 2014/15. In the fall, four BHS students were named National Merit Scholarship semi- finalists. To put this achievement in perspective, only 16,000 students of the initial 1.5 million entrants reach the semi- final stage. BHS also received a commendation for high achievement from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), one of the few schools in the commonwealth to be nominated. Congratulations went to Andrea Ning, who received the US Presidential Scholarship, awarded by the DESE in recognition of outstanding scholarship and promise of future success. On average only 140 students receive this award and it is one of the nation’s highest honors for graduating high school students. Ning nominated Justine Flora, (Occupational Education) as her inspirational teacher.

The new slimmed-down version of the school handbook was presented by Assistant Principal Kate Boynton. The guide has decreased in size from 130 pages to just 70 pages with non essential information being moved online, and accessible via hyperlinks from the BHS website.  The handbook now includes the new Alcohol Breath Testing policy, which was adopted in September 2014.

Changes have also been made to the GPA (grade point average) scale used at the high school. For the incoming 9th grade, students who will graduate in 2019, the unweighted GPA will use a 4.0 scale and the weighted GPA will change to a 5.0. The rationale behind these changes is that they now align with the scales used by MA state college admissions. More detailed information on this can be found in the handbook or on the school web pages.

Principal Turner then presented the plans for 2015/16 which covered four key areas:

  • Introduction of new protocols to allow teachers to quickly and effectively identify struggling students. (Lisa Morrison has been appointed Program Director of Student Achievement and she will be overseeing the various intervention programs available to students.)
  • Development and implementation of a set of common expectations by level and by subject area, which will be available in September. (This will ensure that there is consistency between subjects and provide students with a clearer understanding.)
  • Examine the high school curriculum to ensure it meets the needs of a multicultural and global education, an on-going goal. And, finally,
  • Continuation of professional development for staff including the in-house sharing of knowledge and expertise between teachers.

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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