Saturday, August 31, 2019

Happy New (School) Year!

Welcome back to school!

 As School Committee Chair Michael Greis exclaimed to teachers and staff at their August meeting:  Happy New (School) Year! 

The Needham Public Schools is open for business bright and early on Tuesday, September 3rd, and we are excited to begin a new year and welcome over 5,700 students, including over 380 Full Day Kindergarteners, to the district’s eight schools and the Preschool.  In preparation for a new year of learning a variety of activities have taken place throughout the summer:

  Teachers and administrators have been involved in over 50 curriculum and instruction development projects over the summer months.  Teachers at the elementary and secondary levels planned new programs and helped to revise existing curricular areas.  At the high school, for example, dozens of science teachers, including teachers from the U.S. and other countries, participated in a two-week science modeling program to improve and strengthen chemistry, biology, and physics instruction.  Two NPS teachers, Middle school world language teacher Laura Corkery and high school science teacher Mike Hirsh traveled to our partner school in Beijing, the Daxing School District, to provide professional development for their Chinese colleagues.

  Over 20 Kindergarten teachers worked over the summer to plan for the implementation of our new Full Day Kindergarten program.  Additionally, 20 teacher assistants, who will be assigned to each Kindergarten classroom, participated in a full day program to prepare for their new role working with our young students.  Kindergarten classrooms have been set up, programming established, and teachers and assistants readied to welcome children to a student-centered Kindergarten program in each elementary school.  Over 20 new Boston resident Kindergarteners, all participating in the METCO Program, also joined us for the annual Jumpstart Program that prepares them for a new learning experience in the Needham Public Schools.

METCO students enjoying the Jumpstart Program with friends!

  School construction and renovation projects kept all of the schools busy throughout the summer months.  New flooring, carpeting, and paint at Broadmeadow, Eliot, and Pollard; new auditorium seats at NHS; a new gym floor at Newman; two new modular classrooms installed at Mitchell; and, of course, the completion of the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary School on Central Avenue are all ready to receive students on Tuesday.  We are grateful to the Town of Needham, our maintenance crews, the taxpayers, and especially the Needham School Committee—all of whom work tirelessly to advocate for capital and building improvements to meet student and staff needs.  (Stay tuned for an invitation to an Open House at the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary Schools scheduled for Saturday, October 19th!)
Sunita L. Williams Elementary School

New Mitchell modular classrooms for music and art

  In late August over 120 new teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants gathered for our annual Staff Orientation Program at the Eliot Elementary School to learn more about the district’s programming and expectations as the new school year begins.  We on-boarded folks with training and conversations about the goals, policies, and practices of the NPS.  The new staff also enjoyed lunches and fun activities designed to build relationships and develop understanding of our district’s values and norms.

New teacher and staff orientation at Eliot

We are ready for students and excited to begin a new school year.  Please remember to drive carefully during this first week of school as buses navigate new routes in town, students traverse sidewalks and crossings, and parents drop off and pick up their children.  Traffic on Central Avenue near the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary School, for example, will be slow going and busy as we learn how to safely move cars, buses, vans, and children into and out of the school venue.  Leave early and take your time!

Happy New Year, Needham students and families!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Way Forward

Recently I heard the new Massachusetts Commissioner of K-12 Education, Jeffrey Riley, share his vision for K-12 education in the Commonwealth.  Commissioner Riley has spent the better part of his first year on the job visiting schools, talking to students, teachers, and administrators, and listening to parents, legislative leaders, and education advocates offer their perspectives and hopes and dreams for Massachusetts children.

The Commissioner explained in a report to the State Board of Education how important it is to take the many successes of education reform and reset expectations moving forward.  He said the need is urgent to reconsider priorities in light of a dynamic workforce and interconnected world community:

“We are preparing students for a world that is changing at an accelerating rate.  Our graduates will switch jobs – and even careers – frequently throughout their lives, and many of those jobs have yet to be invented.  The goal of education is no longer simply to possess knowledge; instead, leveraging ever-smarter technology, students must learn to access knowledge, mine it for relevance, and apply it in new ways.  Employers are increasingly valuing skills and dispositions, which can be challenging to measure, on par with content expertise.  And with soaring tuitions and an uncertain return on investment from the traditional college experience, students need additional options for pathways and credentials that bridge K-12, higher education, and employment.” (The Commissioner’s Report to the Board: Our Way Forward for Massachusetts K-12 Public Education June 2019)

The Commissioner has identified four key themes for growth, discovery, and exploration:

i                 Deeper Learning for All
ii               Holistic Support and Enrichment
iii              Innovation and Evidenced-Based Practices
iv             The State as a Partner

Within each of these areas, the Commissioner proposes opportunities, new ways of thinking, and pathways for development.  For example, within the theme of Deeper Learning for All, the Commissioner proposes that schools consider expanded or new opportunities for innovative and hands on instruction; ensuring that expectations for all students are high and academically challenging; connecting students to learning experiences outside of the classroom and community; reconsidering policies, practices, and schedules that impede learning for all.  These ideas align perfectly with Needham’s recently adopted Portrait of a Needham Graduate, and I look forward to understanding how the Commissioner’s vision and our work here locally can help us boost learning for each student in Needham’s classrooms.  Stay tuned as the year unfolds for more information and progress updates!

You can read the Commissioner’s full report here: Our Way Forward

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Class of 2019: Take Care!

My remarks to the amazing Class of '19 on the occasion of their graduation from Needham High School on June 3rd:

Let me take you back to the early morning of September 7th 2006, the first day of Kindergarten for the Class of 2019.  Let me tell you about this guy…

He stood there uncertain about what to do.  Tentatively, he walked into school with a sense of fear, wonder, and excitement about this new place of learning.  He had a lot of questions!  He wore neatly pressed clothes and fresh new shoes.  He had packed a lunch but worried about with whom he would eat.  He fretted about making friends because he was new to Needham and nobody knew him, probably nobody even cared!  “Wait!  If no one will like me,” he asked himself. “And I’ll get lost on the way to the bathroom (and I have to go real bad!!) and the teachers will probably hate me, and the kids will make fun of me! And… and…” He panicked.

On that first and beautiful autumn day back in 2006, beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he peered down the long school corridor.  “What am I doing here?” he asked himself.

Suddenly, a small boy, a Kindergartener, someone in the class of '19, jostled him at the entrance, reached up, grabbed his hand and excitedly announced: “Time for school!”  And as soon as he looked down into that smiling and joyful boy’s face… the Superintendent realized that it was going to be OK. 

And so, your first day of Kindergarten, which also happened to be my first day as Needham’s new superintendent, turned out be OK!

Since the Class of ’19 and I began together in the Needham Public Schools in the fall of 2006, well, we’ve grown up. We’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes, enjoyed new friends, gone on field trips together, made some more mistakes, had fun at Lego League and Robotics—you even let me drive the robot at a tournament this year! In 6th grade we cheered like crazy people during the Pig Races at High Rock (For the record: Mrs. Liner’s Cluster 4 advisory dominated!).

At Pollard we took action together during STA Day; we’ve participated in the musical and we’ve celebrated athletic championships. We’ve puzzled over math problems—for you it was calculus, for me it was the school budget.  We called out injustice, homophobia, and racism.  We laughed a lot…and we mourned together. 

We’ve grown up in these schools, you and I.  You have become strong, smart, actively engaged young women and men who will take on this world like nobody’s business! It’s time for you to move on and get going. You’re ready.

But I’ll hang back.  We came to the Needham Public Schools together, but we part ways this evening.  It’s been a lot of fun and you, well you have been superb classmates and students. Over these 13 years I’ve learned a lot from you, and I am grateful for your examples and lessons of teamwork, creativity, sportsmanship, decency, scholarship, and civility. Thank you for being some of the best teachers I have had; thank you for being a friend.

And when friends say goodbye, they wish each other well, they offer words of comfort and support for the journey ahead.  My farewell to the Class of 2019 is pretty straightforward:

Take care.

Take care, Class of 2019.  Now this farewell has a double meaning.  First and foremost, it’s a simple goodbye, it’s a way to say I will miss you and want you to be careful.  It’s a way to urge caution and prudence and a way to encourage good judgment and good sense.  My mom uttered it to me a million times whenever I headed off to school, got onto my bike, drove the car, headed off to college, and finally when I moved away to California a long time ago.

Take care.  Buckle up, pack a toothbrush, charge your phone, and bring extra underwear!  Be sensible, be safe, know that there is family, there are friends who worry about you and want you to be OK.  We can’t go with you to remove obstacles from your path or solve every problem; we won’t be able to smooth over the inevitable failure or heartbreak.  But before you go, we can look you straight in the eye, wrap an arm around your shoulder and with love say, “Take care.”

This farewell has a second purpose I want you to remember:  You see, take care also means to accept responsibility; to assume a role in your community, in this world, that requires you to be involved and to act with conviction, virtue, and courage.  It is an acknowledgement that you have an obligation to serve others. Take care is a call to action; a requirement to look beyond your own comfort, speak out against inequality and bigotry; discover new ways to solve intractable and stubborn problems; expand your relationships and dialogue with those who vote, pray, love, or look differently than you. Push yourself to ask difficult questions and demand honesty and integrity from others. Look out for those who are differently abled and those who are impoverished or lonely.   Take care of this fragile and wonderful world.  Take care of those whose lives and voices are often marginalized because, as members of this class reminded us in a recent Greater Boston Project presentation, their voices most certainly matter. 

“Take care” is both an expression of comfort and a charge to serve. In the end, it is a hope-filled farewell:  Take care of yourself.  Take care of others.  Graduates, as you face a new morning in your lives, I want you to know how terribly proud I am of you.  I will miss you. 

And thanks for grabbing my hand and welcoming me into your Kindergarten class all those years ago as we began our journey of learning and leading in the Needham Schools.  Class of 2019, I wish you well.

Take Care.