Monday, March 31, 2014

Owning Your Peace/Piece at Needham High School

Recently, several Needham High School students shared their personal stories as part of the high school’s Own Your Peace/Own Your Piece assembly. The assembly is part of a student initiative focused on building student activism, voice, resiliency, and a broad sense of community and respect.

Courageous students stood in front of hundreds and hundreds of their peers to share their personal stories and challenges. Their poignant anecdotes about their struggles with emotional and mental health issues, sexual orientation, racism, or learning issues were thoughtful, articulate, and inspiring. I came away captivated by their mature words and their powerful perspectives that demonstrated a willingness to stand up, take a risk, and  model what we value and how we want students to act.

Of course, it is no accident that the Own Your Peace/Own Your Piece assembly can thrive in a caring community like Needham High. The school's staff, parents, and students value and appreciate one another, and this speak out was yet another example of how the school strives to empower young people and their learning.

Thanks to the brave young men and women at Needham High School who encouraged each one of us to Own Your Peace/Own Your Piece!

Check out the student video that kicked off the week’s activities:  Youtube: NHS Own Your Peace/Own Your Piece

Friday, February 28, 2014

School Committee Endorses Override to Provide More Innovation and Time on Learning

At the request of the School Committee, the Needham Selectmen have voted unanimously to place the following override question on the April 8, 2014 ballot:

Shall the Town of Needham be allowed to assess an additional $1,548,410 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding operating expenses for the Public Schools for the fiscal year beginning July first two thousand fourteen?

The School Committee is requesting the additional funding to provide for innovative and extended learning in the Needham Schools.  The additional funds, if approved by the voters in April, will:

a)    Restore previously cut school programs like elementary Spanish, music and PE;
b)    Provide for innovative learning opportunities for our elementary students, including technology and increased arts;
c)     Extend the school day to optimize learning for all K-8 students and;
d)    Ensure the K-12 professional staff has sufficient time to meet during and after the school day to improve and strengthen instruction.

This request is the result of numerous, ongoing, and public discussions over the last several years about the need to improve programs and provide sufficient time for our students.  Over the last ten years the District’s curriculum review process has detailed the need for additional time to address instructional concerns and develop programs that will enhance and empower student learning.  Additionally, data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is compelling and shows that Needham has more students per teacher than all but one of our 20 comparable communities, and our students have less time on learning in the classroom in grades K-8 than many of those same towns.  Finally, Needham’s teachers require additional time before, during, and after school hours to address state mandates and meet, collaborate, and plan to tackle the many and diverse learning needs of all our students.

Over the last several months the School Committee worked collaboratively with School and Town officials, especially the Finance Committee, to develop a request that is reasonable and minimizes the impact on taxpayers.  My original proposal to the School Committee was for a $2.1 million supplemental plan; however, focused and detailed discussion with the Finance Committee resulted in the request being lowered to $1.5 million.  The resulting School Committee plan is comprehensive, innovative, and will allow Needham’s elementary and middle school students more time to learn and grow—up to 75 hours of additional elementary instruction is part of the School Committee’s plan!

To learn more about the plan and to share your ideas with the School Committee, please visit the district’s website: Innovation and Extended Learning in the Needham Schools

Friday, January 31, 2014

Personalizing Learning at the Middle School: Launch of the 1 to 1 Initiative

 Needham middle schoolers working with their iPads

I am excited to announce that the Needham Public Schools 1 to 1 Personalized Learning Committee is recommending the implementation of an iPad initiative at the middle school level, beginning next September in the 6th grade.  After successful and ongoing 1 to 1 iPad pilots in the 7th, 8th, and 12th grades, the committee presented its recommendation to the School Committee for consideration and action.

We seek to create and sustain an environment that is responsive to ever changing technology in a way that enriches student achievement and encourages frequent and high levels of human interaction and collaboration—whether that is through electronic medium or in person.  We believe the iPad 1 to 1 program will strengthen student learning; increase student organization and confidence; and ensure personalized learning experiences become routine rather than random and occasional—for struggling students and for students requiring more challenging curriculum. 

The Committee believes a full implementation at High Rock and the following year in the 7th grade will strengthen teaching and learning and is consistent with the district’s values and goals:

·      Transform the current instructional model so that teachers are better able to help students master concepts that are frequently challenging for them to learn;
·      Provide personalized learning experiences for our students;
·      Empower students and help them take ownership of their learning;
·      Provide opportunities for students to create, communicate and collaborate.  In short, to prepare students as 21st century learners.

The plan calls for parents and students to purchase, lease, or bring an iPad to school with a limited number of loaner iPads available for those who are unable to participate in a purchase/lease program.  It will be critical to have at least 85% participation of students who either purchase/lease or bring a specified iPad if the implementation is to occur.  The District simply does not have the resources to purchase an iPad for each student at the middle school level; we need to depend on 85% of sixth grade students and their families to purchase/lease or bring their own device if we are to improve and enhance the educational experience for our middle school students.

While parents and families are being asked to assume financial responsibility for providing a device the District will meet the infrastructure, personnel and professional development needs to support the 1 to 1 initiative.

If the School Committee votes to adopt the plan, Needham will join several other communities, including Weston, Shrewsbury, Burlington, Wellesley, Millis, and Bedford, all of whom have integrated (or will next fall) the use of iPads into the educational program to engage students and improve the academic environment.

For more information, including the full report and implementation timeline, check out: 1 to 1 Personalized Learning Initiative Report

Monday, December 30, 2013

FY15 Budget Proposal: The resources required to meet student needs and provide innovative and creative learning opportunities

The Needham School Committee is reviewing a budget proposal for next school year (2014-15/FY15) that addresses growing enrollment at the secondary level, meets increased student needs, and offers innovative opportunities for teaching and learning. 

Based on the School Committee’s identified priorities, the budget proposal includes resources for teachers at the middle and high schools, as well as funds to support student activities, athletics, and technology implementation, including the integration of iPads beginning in the 6th grade for each student.  At the elementary level resources for curriculum programs and the funds needed to make up for Federal budget cuts to special education and Title I (literacy and math support) are also included.

Key highlights of the proposed budget:

  The FY15 budget plan represents a 5.24% increase of $2.8 million over the current fiscal year.
  Contractual salary costs account for about $1.5 million of the overall increase.
  The budget plan assumes elementary enrollment will decline slightly but secondary enrollment will increase with total PreK-12 enrollment growing from 5,586 to 5,595.
  Overall staffing is increased by a net of 20 staff members, including 16 teachers, most required for growing secondary enrollment and to meet special education and English Language Learner (ELL) needs.
  Targeted improvements in technology training, curriculum improvements, transportation, and student activities account for $736,000 of the budget plan.

In addition, the School Committee is considering a supplemental budget proposal of $1.8 million to provide for innovation, creativity, and extended learning in the Needham Schools.  These funds would provide the necessary resources to offer Needham’s students 21st Century learning opportunities that enrich each child’s education. The additional funds would:

  Introduce Spanish, Technology, the Arts, and expanded Health and Physical Education at the elementary level in grades 1 to 5 for all students and Music in Kindergarten.
  Provide an additional 75 hours or three weeks elementary instruction; an additional week or 30 hours of instruction at High Rock and Pollard.
  Ensure teachers and administrators have additional time to create dynamic and innovative learning experiences and collaborate to improve student growth, success, and achievement.

The supplemental budget request ensures Needham’s students have the resources and tools they need to learn, grow, create, and compete in an increasingly complex and interconnected global community—one that requires enhanced learning experiences and skill development in foreign language, technology, the arts, and health and wellness. 

The preliminary budget has been thoughtfully considered and is consistent with the School Committee and community’s high expectations for its young people.  The plan addresses growing middle and high school enrollment, meets the increasing demands of State and Federal governments, and strengthens teaching and learning. 

The School Committee invites the community to provide feedback about the budget at the FY15 Budget Public Hearing scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21, 2013 at Broadmeadow.  You can also email comments to: 

For more information about the FY15 Budget Proposal, please visit the Needham Public Schools website: FY15 NPS Proposed Budget Information 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Honoring Gerry Wasserman

This week the Needham School Committee honored the life and service of former Needham Selectman and School Committee member Gerald “Gerry” Wasserman by naming the Hillside Elementary School media center the Gerry Wasserman Media Center in his memory.  Gerry’s family, including his son Michael and his wife Joan, attended the ceremony hosted by School Committee Chairman, Joe Barnes.

Gerry’s commitment to the Town of Needham spanned decades, and his work on behalf of the residents and, especially, the children and families of Needham was a mark of his tenure as a public servant.  His passion for education, civility, and social justice made him a key player and advocate for change and growth locally and across the state.

Gerry served on the Needham School Committee from 1990-99.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Extending the School Day for Needham's Students

Over the last year administrators working collaboratively with the Needham Education Association (NEA) Executive Board agreed to consider a possible extension of the school day to meet identified programmatic and instructional issues.  More recently the Committee on Extended Time (CET) worked to propose a direction and schedule that provides more time on learning for students, increases K – 5 student programming, and ensures structured and consistent time for teacher planning and collaboration.

The committee understands that it is impossible to create an ideal schedule given the practical realities of budgets, bus schedules, and family concerns and needs.  However, the committee believes this proposal is grounded in the district’s core values and goals, developmentally appropriate, innovative in design, and will offer the children of Needham creative and worthwhile learning experiences that will allow them to grow, learn, and thrive in the 21st Century. 

The proposal for extended time in the Needham Public Schools is exciting and innovative.  It will enrich the student experience and provide educators with the time and structures necessary to continue to grow and refine their practice in ways that will further enhance and empower student growth, learning, and achievement.

•  At the elementary level the CET proposes new and expanded curricular offerings, including PE/Wellness, Spanish, the arts, technology, and robotics/engineering.  Additionally, consistent teacher preparation  and collaboration time is introduced into the school day to ensure teachers have the time necessary to plan, work together, and support their students.

•  At the middle schools the addition of ten minutes would expand existing programming and allow the schools to count the additional time on learning toward the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) secondary school standard of 990 minimum instructional hours. Additional teacher collaboration and professional development time would also enhance the student experience.

•  The high school would not increase student programming or time on learning, but teacher collaboration and meeting time is proposed to increase on a regular and consistent schedule that would minimally impact after school help, tutoring, and student activities.

The committee acknowledged that a significant change like the one proposed requires significant and new resources for the schools, and it will require all school staff—teachers, teacher assistants, technicians, principals, secretaries—to think and work differently on behalf of the students of the Needham Schools.  Thus the implementation of a new schedule will require patience, creativity, flexibility, and openness to change and growth.  And the planning and communication to staff, parents, students, and the community must be clear, thoughtful, and compelling.

We hope the School Committee and the community will support this bold proposal to enhance teaching and learning in the Needham Public Schools for all children.

For more information and details about the proposal: Extended Time Report to the School Committee.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Challenge to Teachers from St. Ignatius Loyola

My welcome back remarks to staff included my hope and expectations for the year ahead.  Excerpts from my comments follow:

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”

Here’s what this quote from St. Ignatius Loyola says to me:  Empower young people to learn, grow, achieve, and then release them to go and repeat this cycle for a new generation, for a world desperate for their scholarship, service, and leadership.  Kindle within your students a sense of belonging, of purpose, and a hunger for innovation and social justice.

If by year’s end we have not raised up all of our students—all students—to stretch their minds, overcome a personal obstacle, create, or discover we have failed them and their lives are diminished and the world has become a little darker.

And this world can use some help.  Given what we read about in the news and experience firsthand, how can we not believe that our work in schools is not critical?  Political gridlock.  Newtown.  Climate change. Trayvon Martin. Marathon bombing. Egypt. Syria. We do not have to look far to see the hubris, arrogance, and prejudice that pervades our world and dims the lights. Education is the answer and teachers are the fire-starters who must propel young people forward to dispatch ignorance.

You are the ones to guide young people in their quest for self-discovery, growth, and meaning. And education is the critical mass needed to assist young people to develop the skills, imagination, and courage to tackle the intractable problems of today’s world. These problems will require sophisticated responses, intelligent discourse, and creative problem solvers who will collaborate and cooperate to improve lives and brighten the world.  Along with their parents, we have the awesome and humbling responsibility to nurture and excite young people and believe in them so they, in turn, can become beacons of compassion, justice, civility, and hope.

And I commit to you today you will not do this work alone.  The district will have failed you and your students if we do not build and maintain the relationships, resources, and structures you need to start fires!

  First, we will organize training and planning around educator evaluation in such a way that supports you to grow and empowers you to stretch yourself and enhance your skills and your students’ learning.

  Together we will craft innovative curriculum programs and common assessments that will engage students in creative and consequential ways, in ways that promote interdisciplinary learning and authentic opportunities for students to express themselves and their growth. We will act together to ensure equity and access for all students so they can learn and achieve.

  We will strengthen advisory, homeroom, and small groups facilitated by teachers and adults so students can build relationships and develop skills that will assist them to grow into responsible, resilient, and caring young people.

  We will pilot new and mobile technology tools so that both you and your students can learn more efficiently, collaboratively, and in a way that complements the technology rich environments of home, college, and the workplace.

  We will offer opportunities for you to expand your students’ experiences into the community so they can serve and learn about the world around them.  We will expect you to become more culturally proficient and understand that each adult and child has a unique story to tell—one that is rich in culture, ethnicity, language, lifestyle, and faith.

  We will collaborate closely with the School Committee, Town officials, and parents to advocate for additional time, space, and the resources we need to support all of this work and more.

And, finally, we will do this work imperfectly and we will allow room for error, failed attempts, and mistakes.  And we will be OK with that and grow from the experience.

Next Tuesday, and every day after, as scores of young people tumble from buses and cars and pile into your classrooms they will bring with them a jumble of emotions, skills, experiences, expectations, and possibilities.  Somehow you must skillfully and carefully connect your knowledge and wisdom to the lives of your students in a way that inflames their passion for languages, the arts, writing, math, and scientific discovery. 

This, then, is the essence of your work:  You don’t just teach children, you ignite a generation!