School Committee Votes 4-1 to Accept Superintendent Conrad’s Three-Year District Improvement Plan

The School Committee has voted to accept the three-year district improvement plan drafted by Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad.

The vote was 4-1, with member Daniel Brosgol stating that he would prefer more ambitious and demanding goals. The process extended over two meetings.

“We are on the shoulders of what has come before,” Conrad told the committee. “I’ve taken what we were doing before and made it a bit more practical.”

District improvement plans are required under state law.

The three-year plan comprises three major areas, Conrad said: social-emotional learning; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and student-centered curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

There are four core values that support the mission: achievement, inclusivity, community, and empathy. “The hardest part is not determining what you value, but to narrow it down to four,” Conrad said, adding, “For a long time it was 15.”

The plan “must be evaluated and revised annually based on a number of components, “ranging from goals, objectives, and action steps, to timelines for implementation/completion of strategies,” according to the document.

In response to some committee concerns after the first reading, Conrad added a format to measure and record benchmarks. There are spaces for action steps, time frames, and success indicators. These will also be incorporated into individual school improvement plans, the superintendent said.

“Where are standards, achievement, rigor? I feel like this is the next version of being really safe. I wanted a little more from it,” Brosgol said. “It feels like what we’ve been doing, with a couple of more details. I feel like we may be stuck in this mode when Covid is behind us. These are, of course, worthy goals. I want kids to fly high and achieve. I think it’s a missed opportunity for three years ahead. What do we dare ourselves to do?”

His committee colleague Ann Guay took the opposite viewpoint. “I think it’s good they haven’t changed much. There are no quick fixes to what we are trying to do We need to support the whole student. Given the year we’ve had I look forward to seeing what we achieve in the coming months.”

Member JoAnn Santiago said she is regarding the improvement plan from her professional perspective, “someone who has spent many years writing strategic plans. I’m thinking about it from the position of a future school committee member – how do you know if you achieved? It’s really hard to look at this and say, ‘I know we have done this.”

Committee member Brad Morrison said, “This feels very much like a temporizing document – it doesn’t feel like there’s a stretch in it.” He as well advocated a way to demonstrate accomplishment, “actual evidence that things are better. We might be able to make a little more aggressive expectations.”

Conrad said, “I think our next step is creating action steps and an action timeline. What I am concerned about is we also would like to get this going. School improvement plans come next. This is something we continue to work on and we can certainly help you to see how we’ll know when we have achieved.”

Prakhar Gupta, the Bedford High School senior serving as student representative to the School Committee, endorsed prioritizing social-emotional learning. “A lot of social-emotional learning was lost for a lot of students, and trying to jump into goals surrounding rigor could be the cart before the horse a little bit. It’s really refreshing for me to see goals around social justice and social-emotional learning. These goals are measurable in the sense that students will be able to learn at a higher capacity when we address social-emotional learning first.”

In the written document, Conrad defines the improvement plan as a strategic plan, “a document developed through broad-based participation that expresses an organization’s foundational beliefs, through goals, objectives, and action plans. It also provides a blueprint for long-term direction and decision-making.”

The components, he continued, are “a statement of core values, a mission, and a vision,” which he considers “a description of the intended future for a district and its school community if the plan is realized.”

The mission reads: “We provide a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment in which the unique academic, intellectual, social, ethical, and emotional growth of each learner can be realized.”

The vision articulated in the plan states: “As educators within the Bedford Public Schools, we aspire to be a collaborative school system in partnership with the community and families that develop curious, engaged, resilient, empathetic, and kind learners. Our students are creative and critical thinkers, and who apply knowledge, act responsibly, and make meaningful contributions.”

“The District Improvement Plan builds upon the foundational principles and expresses goals, objectives, and strategies that, if accomplished, lead to the achievement of the vision,” the document explains. The goal of the district plan, along with individual school plans, is “to build systemic and sustainable capacity to carry out data-supported planning going forward.” This “helps prioritize major initiatives and may impact far-reaching areas including curriculum development, teaching and learning, assessment, organization, facilities improvements, and data management.”

The plan enumerates “processes to support schools, students, and staff in their performance management efforts.”

The plan outlines the following primary “beliefs:”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion: “Educational equity where everyone receives the academic, social, and emotional support and services they need within an environment of high-quality teaching and learning for all members of our school community, which includes a rigorous curriculum, instructional models that engage students, and where students utilize critical thinking and have agency.”

Student-centered curriculum, instruction, and assessment: “We develop and
implement instructional strategies that prioritize the student experience, and that we assess our students in a manner that allows each child to develop as an autonomous and independent learner who is responsible for their own learning.”

Social-emotional learning: “Students learn to acquire, understand, and apply the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage their own emotions, achieve personal and group goals, feel and show empathy towards others, establish and maintain healthy relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.”

The beliefs are incorporated as district-wide strategic objectives, and the plan outlines initiatives designed to achieve them. Then action steps are proposed to realize the various objectives. Some examples are:

“Utilize curricula, instructional practices, and materials in all schools and classrooms that are responsive to the diversity of our students and families;

Expand the diversity of our leadership and educator workforce to better reflect the students of our communities (Bedford, Boston, and Hanscom Air Force Base);

Implement the literacy plan at all levels and for all students;

Ensure that students understand what they are learning and why they are learning it so that they can take ownership of their own learning;

Employ disciplinary practices such as restorative justice to ensure that all students are treated equitably and with kindness and respect;

Expand the understanding and integration of social-emotional competencies for all educators so that students develop a greater understanding of the role emotions play in their lives.

School improvement plans, produced by each building’s school council, are linked to the district improvement plan. School improvement plans were a cornerstone of Massachusetts’ 1993 education reform act.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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