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Friday, May 31, 2019

Our Partners in Innovation and Learning, the Needham Education Foundation


Our partners in innovation and learning, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF), recently announced that a total of over $125,000 in grants had been awarded during the 2018-19 school year to the Needham Public Schools (NPS) to enrich the classroom experience for our students.  This brings the total amount of grants awarded to the NPS since 1990 to $3,000,000!  That is a remarkable commitment of generosity from this amazing community to its schools and children.

2018-19 NEF Grant Awardees being honored at a recent reception.  $125,000 in grants awarded this year!

Not only does the NEF provide significant funding and resources to help teachers plan and implement creative and innovative programming in each one of our schools, the NEF collaborates with teachers, administrators, parents, and students to strengthen and develop grant proposals.  The hard work of a dedicated board of directors who are in tune to the needs of the schools and have an eye toward improvement, enrichment, and the needs of students help grant writers and prospective grant writers to fine tune requests for funds.  In this way, the grant proposals are stronger and the opportunity for success increases.

Of course, all of this happens because the Needham community values its children and have consistently supported the NEF through donations, pledges, and the annual Spelling Bee.  Families, teachers, community members, and Needham businesses believe that supporting the NEF is a superb way to provide excitement, learning, and fun in Needham’s classrooms—and they are right!

As we work to integrate the Portrait of a Needham Graduate into our schools and classrooms in the coming years, we especially look forward to our collaboration with the NEF to strengthen learning for each child in the schools.  Thank you, Needham Education Foundation!

For more information about the NEF or to make a donation, please check out: https://www.nefneedham.org/

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Vision for Needham's Young People


What kind of educational experiences do we want for our students at all grade levels as we propel them towards graduation, the challenges ahead, and their future lives? 

That was the essential question the Portrait of a Needham Graduate Committee studied and debated over the last year.  We researched, discussed, and ultimately articulated the key attributes, skills, and knowledge we want for Needham’s young people, now and as far into the future as we can see. We developed a framework—a Portrait of a Needham Graduate—that will inform the district’s work going forward, with priorities and strategic objectives around which the community can coalesce and contribute.

We believe that even though their future is uncertain, our students will be prepared.  These are the five critical competencies that emerged from our work:

Preparing all Needham Public Schools Students to be…

Creative Thinkers and Problem Solvers
Raise questions driven by curiosity; Analyze relevant information; 
Express creativity; Design and innovate solutions

Communicators and Collaborators
Listen effectively; Articulate ideas using a variety of communication strategies and skills; 
Interact with others respectfully and productively; Contribute to teamwork

Socially and Culturally Responsive Contributors
Understand and respect diversity; Act with empathy and courage to ensure equity, access, and an anti-racist culture; Address local & global issues through civic and community engagement

Responsible and Resilient Individuals
Take responsibility for actions; Make healthy choices to achieve physical & emotional 
well-being; Self advocate; Persist to overcome personal challenges; Adapt to change   

Empowered Learners
Discover and integrate content from multiple disciplines; Engage in self-directed learning; 
Use technology to support learning and navigate a digital world

Our students’ collective and individual success depends on developing these competencies in preparation for the world that awaits them. Key priorities, based on these competencies, will guide our work.  These include:

Priority 1: ALL STUDENTS ARE DRIVERS OF THEIR OWN LEARNING
Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Educators who adopt a student-centered approach to instruction increase opportunities for student engagement, which then helps students to achieve their own learning objectives. In terms of teaching practices, a shift is needed from teacher transmission of information to student application of knowledge through their own real-world experiences.

The following strategic objectives are recommended to support all students in becoming drivers of their own learning:

•  Incorporate opportunities for student choice, independent learning, and individualized pathways.

•  Provide structures and experiences that enable student efficacy, leadership, and voice.

• Teach students the content and skills necessary for them to grow personally and academically. 

Priority 2: ALL STUDENTS EXPERIENCE INTEGRATIVE TEACHING & LEARNING

In many educational systems, there are learning silos for academic subjects, departments, Special Education, etc. This priority is about Needham Public Schools serving or intending to unify separate things for the purpose of carrying out best practices in teaching and learning.

Our intent is to enable students to make connections between ideas and concepts across different disciplines and apply the knowledge gained. At the same time, we intend to address students’ individual differences and provide each student with access to the resources they need. We will take into account social and emotional components that either facilitate or impede learning, and consider alternative ways for students to acquire and demonstrate knowledge and skills. We believe transferable skills, like communication and collaboration, will result in learning experiences that stay with the student for a lifetime. 

The following strategic objectives are recommended to support all students in experiencing integrative teaching and learning:

•  Extend interdisciplinary teaching and learning practices Pre-K to 12.

•  Embed Portrait Competencies, Technology, Inclusive Practices, SEL, and Equity into all curricula and instructional practices.

•  Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills through multiple means of expression.

Priority 3: ALL STUDENTS LEARN & GROW WITHIN ADAPTABLE ENVIRONMENTS

We recognize that learning takes place within the classroom, and within and outside the school building. Learning continues in the community and with families. That is why it’s important to extend our work by enhancing learning environments. Staff suggested more flexible/innovative spaces, schedules, and structures; thoughtful homework practices; opportunities for travel and internships; family/community engagement; and other fresh ideas.

The following strategic objectives are recommended to support all students to learn and grow within adaptable environments:

•  Support and design classroom models and environments that foster collaboration and innovation.

•  Provide time, schedules, and spaces that promote learning objectives.

•  Complement instruction with accessible learning outside the classroom, within the community, and in partnership with families.

Priority 4: INFRASTRUCTURE SUPPORTS NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS
Underpinning the Portrait framework is an infrastructure critical to carrying out our 5-year plan. This priority focuses on the investments needed, the capacity building, development of systems, and the ongoing training and professional learning of Needham Public Schools staff.

The following strategic objectives are recommended to provide the infrastructure that supports the needs of all students:

•  Provide staffing, facilities, and budget resources aligned to district priorities.

•  Implement a recruitment, retention, and development process for staff growth and diversity.

•  Establish a professional learning structure supporting equity and the Portrait vision.
Please join us in the months and years ahead as we collaborate, plan, and work to ensure the Portrait becomes a reality for each student in the Needham Schools.

On May 7th the School Committee will be asked to vote on the Portrait and priority areas.  Stay tuned and connected as we work to implement a new vision for Needham’s young people.