Thursday, December 31, 2009

Race to the Top.... What does it all mean?

Last summer the US Department of Education announced that it would release $4.3 billion to states through competitive grants as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Known as Race to the Top, this program essentially is phase two of the federal stimulus monies for public education. There are strings attached to this money, as states applying for the monies must met a very defined set of eligibility and selection criteria. Some of these criteria must already be in place and the applying states must demonstrate they have reform plans in place. The four criteria areas are the following:

1. Standards and Assessments: States must design and implement a set of "internationally benchmarked common standards and assessments that build toward college and career readiness." Massachusetts' well-established Curriculum Frameworks and MCAS system as well as its participation in the national Common Core State Standards Initiative positions the state well in this area.

2. Data Systems to Support Instruction: States must design and implement a comprehensive data system that details student achievement data over time (showing growth, etc.), can communicate with higher education data systems, and can match individual students with teachers. Massachusetts has done a lot of work in this area by establishing the Educational Data Warehouse and its new Student Growth Percentile reporting, but the next step, starting in 2011, will be to match student achievement data (e.g., MCAS results) to individual teachers. This data, according to the RTTT Grant, must be made easily accessible to all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, principals, and all district and union leaders.

3. Great Teachers and Leaders: States must provide alternate routes to teacher certification, ones other than traditional teacher prep programs. They must also come up with a plan where teachers and principals are evaluated annually and differentiated by effectiveness, using student achievement data as at least one measure of effectiveness. Data on teacher and principal effectiveness should be used for the purposes of evaluation, compensation and promotion, granting of tenure, and dismissal. Teacher evaluation should be based upon distinct standards of performance and should utilize a multiple rating scale. Additionally, states must have plans in place to increase the number of highly effective teachers in high-need schools (e.g., urban districts) and in shortage subject areas (e.g., math and science). Finally, state plans should also use student data to drive teacher and principal supports such as professional development and common planning time.

4. Turning Around Struggling Schools: States must already have the legal authority to intervene in persistently low-performing schools or districts and also have a statutory framework that is supportive of high-quality charter schools (e.g., no cap on new charters, etc.). States must also develop a plan where superintendents/local educational agencies (LEAs) should have the authority to turn around the state's lowest 5% of schools by using one of three options: 1) reconstitution of the school's leadership and/or professional staff; 2) handover of the school to a charter school or other educational management organization; or 3) outright closing of the school.

There obviously is a lot new here in the RTTT requirements. As it is estimated that Massachusetts' share (if funded) of the RTTT funds is approximately $250 million over the next four years, the state has made some efforts to create plans to support the above reforms. Most notable is the Education Reform Act of 2009, which the MA Senate passsed on November 17 and the House will be debating starting next week (for a summary of this bill, click here). The bill is meant to strengthen the state's RTTT application, as it provides for more authority and autonomy for superintendents to intervene in in underperforming and chronically underperforming schools, lifts the cap on new charter schools, enabling school committees in underperforming districts to establish them, and allows communities to establish "innovation schools," which have increase autonomy and flexibility in all phases of operation. Seeing that the RTTT application is due to the feds by January 19, the bill in some form will likely pass in the House in the next two weeks.

Also to bolster the state's application, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has sent out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to all 299 of the state's districts. The MOU states that the district is committed to implementing the four above reform areas of RTTT and will support the state's plans to implement the reforms. DESE is asking that each district's superintendent, school committee chair, and teachers' union president sign this MOU and return it by January 13. If a district does not return the MOU, then it will not be eligible for any of the Massachusetts RTTT funds.

It should be noted that 50% of the RTTT funds will be dispersed based upon how much Title I (which is based upon poverty) a district receives. This does not bode well for Mansfield, as our Title I funding is relatively minor.

So much of this represents change- and with that will come a great deal of controversy. I personally believe that there's a great deal of positive reforms in RTTT, such as increased use of data, requirement of benchmarked, teacher-generated assessments, annual evaluations based upon professional teaching standards, and the possibility of rewarding the best teachers through differentiated compensation. These ideas will no doubt cause great dialogue, and their merits should be debated. Educators may love or hate these reforms, but they are here to stay.

The reality of the situation is simple: RTTT has strings attached, and in the worst economic times since the Great Depression, most, if not all districts are cash strapped and need the RTTT funds. The reforms of RTTT are clearly the agenda of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration. They are not leaving us for anytime soon. The way I see it is that we can go "kicking and screaming," or hop on the train, so to speak. My hope is that educators can embrace many of these reforms and shape what they actually look in practice so that kids ultimately benefit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Alternative View: "My Lazy American Students"

I read the following in this morning's Boston Globe. This opinion piece, by Babson College History Professor Kara Miller, is the antithesis of the point that cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch is making (as shown in my post of yesterday).

My lazy American students - The Boston Globe

Posted using ShareThis

There is probably a lot of truth in what Ms. Miller is bemoaning. But, I would love to see a snaphot of what is happening in Ms. Miller's classroom. Why are her students checking their e-mail during her class? Why are they sleeping?? What is she doing to actively engage them in their learning?? I don't think this is strictly a cultural phenomenon as she is suggesting!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Future of Communication

Michael Wesch, a 2009 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, has produced several short videos (the most notable being Web 2.0 - The Machine is Us/ing Us) that have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. His commentary on communication, education, and technology are definitely thought provoking. One of his latest, The Future of Communication, is no different. At 16:49, it is a little lengthy, but I urge you to stick with it as the payoff is great!

Wesch teaches with college students, but all of the points he makes are equally applicable to high school students. As he says, we live in a world where there is ubiquitous information on ubiquitous networks that do ubiquitous computing anywhere about everything at anytime, anyplace at unlimited speed on unlimited devices. Any parent with a teenager with a computer and a smart phone could testify to that fact!

When our students are put in the traditional classroom, frequently it is a completely different paradigm. The questions asked are far too often not ones around genuine curiosity and learning, but rather ones around outputs such as, "How long does this paper have to be?" and "What do I have to do to get an A?" Wesch calls this the "getting by and getting the grade game." He considers much of the current state of affairs in many classrooms to be a crisis of significance.

Wesch's premise is that we have to harness the current reality of ubiquitous technology so learning is significant and relevant to all students. Students thirst to be empowered to access information and engage with it, to collaborate, to problem solve, and to create. These skills also happen to be known as "21st century learning skills," but they are also tied to a new literacy- digital literacy. Yes, our students know how to access their Facebook pages, but can they apply that same savvy to the use of technology in creating a great piece of writing? Or great art? Music? How do we as teachers enable this to happen?

It is little wonder that Wesch was named as the Carnegie Foundation's 2008 Outstanding and Doctoral Universities Professor of the Year for his innovative teaching strategies.

His message strongly resonates with me.... What do you think?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Is Success??

I shared these thoughts during my brief comments during last Thursday night's annual Gridiron Club banquet. It is quite a huge event, as over 400 MHS football players, cheerleaders, their families and friends, and coaches/support staff attend each year.

In the past year and a half I have faithfully read the work of Mike Hardman, who chronicles the ups and downs of Mansfield HS sports in the weekly Mansfield News. I really like his columns and articles, as he enthusiastically writes about our student athletes and frequently gives our school great publicity.

In his column entitled, "Something was Missing" of December 4, Hardman reflected on the football team's 36-0 dismantling of rival Foxboro on Thanksgiving day. Though it was a great victory, Hardman postulated that there was something hollow about it, as there was no possibility for a Hockomock championship or post-season play for the Hornets. He wrote:

"... this is Mansfield where seasons are rated on whether you won the
Super bowl or not.... Still, 9-2, which the Hornets finished at, is not
good enough to earn a postseason birth. With the way it is now, it's
basically perfection or bust. That's why on the perfect Thanksgiving,
there was something missing."

I took from this piece two main ideas: 1) that the current MIAA playoff system demands that a football team have a nearly perfect season since there is only one representative from the highly competitive Hockomock League, and 2) due to the unprecedented accomplishments the football team has enjoyed in recent years, the bar for measuring success is extremely high in Mansfield.

True, wins and losses on the playing field are important. However, they pale in comparison to the bigger picture of the successes that students enjoy just from the experience of playing a sport and being part of the team. I think of the approximately 150 young men who gained immeasurably from the tutelage of Coach Mike Redding and his assistant coaches this year. These students have learned skills such as: time management, balancing academics and athletics (as evidenced by typically 75% of the team achieving honor roll status), respect of self and others, camaraderie, perseverance, resiliency, sportsmanship, fair play, and winning and losing with class. These are all life-long lessons that will serve our students well beyond their four years at MHS. The true success of the MHS football program is not the many Hockmock and Super Bowl championships, but rather how well the above traits have been instilled in our student athletes. The same can be said for many other fine sports programs at MHS that have dedicated coaching staffs.

I believe we live in a sports-crazy society, where winning at all costs is often the bottom line. We have enjoyed much success in athletics at MHS, but making the postseason tournament is not what it's all about. True success may be measured by the qualities that our young men and women now possess as a result of competing. That's what our focus should and must be...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving.... Mansfield 36, Foxboro 0

I hope you and your family have had a happy Thanksgiving!! There is much for all of us to be thankful for...

The Mansfield Hornets beat their Thanksgiving rival, Foxboro HS, 36-0 at Ahern Middle School. Leading the way in his final game was senior Sean Doherty (pictured at the left) who scored an amazing five (count 'em, 5) touchdowns. Sean earned his second straight Don Currivan MVP Award by amassing 136 yards on the ground and 51 yards in the air by catching four Nik Busharis passes. Sean finishes his career as the all-time Hornet rusher, and one of the all-time greats to ever wear the MHS uniform. Great job!

The 9-2 Hornets finished second in the Hockomock. Congrats on yet another successful season!

State Champs Again!!

Pictured above, l to r: Ryan Petrella, Patrick McGowan, Shayne Collins, Brendan Boyle, Jeff Boyle, and Matt Hernon; front: Matt Cioe

Once again, the MHS Boys Cross Country team is the State Division I champions! On Saturday, November 21 the team traveled to western Massachusetts to the hilly Northfield Mountain course. The team edged out Methuen 133 points to 137 points. Leading the way was senior Pat McGowan, who was the individual state champion, with the winning time of 16:5.4 on the challenging 5K course. Also in the top ten were senior Brendan Boyle (8th place) and junior Shayne Collins (9th place) with great times of 16:25.6 and 16:29.3, respectively. Rounding out Mansfield's top five were junior Matt Cioe (69th place) and senior Matt Hernon (105th place).
The MHS harriers were also the state champs in 2008. Congratulations to these outstanding athletes and their fine head coach Julie Collins!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Something New: Student Growth Percentiles

Recently the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a new set of data to all of the Commonwealth's districts and schools. This data, known as Student Growth Percentiles (SGP), serve to quantify how much each student has grown each year as measured by his/her performance on the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test each spring. One could simply look at a student's performance and score from year to year, but that wouldn't necessarily be a valid judgment, as the relative difficulty of each grade's tests and accompanying cut scores have some variability. Thus, some scale that could judge a student's performance relative to his/her peers is needed. That's exactly what the DOE has created.

It works this way: Say a student scored 240 (Proficient) in the fifth grade on math MCAS test. He takes the math MCAS in the sixth grade, and that performance is compared to all of his peers in the same grade who also scored 240 in the fifth grade. He scores a 242 as a sixth grader (also Proficient), but his SGP is 70, which means he scored in the 70th percentile of his peers (he scored the same/better than 70% of his peers, and 30% of his peers did better than him). Thus, the SGP is a statistical feature that quantifies growth on a 1-100 scale, comparing each student to his/her peers based upon how they did in the previous year.

This is another nice piece of the data collection that schools now possess to ascertain how well students are learning. The DOE has also released median SGP values for individual districts and schools for the MCAS tests in ELA and math in grades 4-8 and 10. Typical growth has a SGP value of 40-60 while high growth is 70 or higher. These values could show that a school with high proficiency rates (achieiving AYP, or adequately yearly progress) is not growing, a low-performing school is showing growth, or something in between. When the DOE announced the new SGP data, they highlighted the schools that showed significant growth from 2008 to 2009. Many of these schools are in urban settings.

For more information on SGP data, click here. For the Mansfield SGP data, click here. If you will note, the median SGP for the Mansfield High School grade 10 ELA is 60 and grade 10 math is 63. These percentiles show the growth that last year's sophomores (the class of 2011) have made since they took the test as 8th graders in 2007. As a school community, we are pleased that we have demonstrated some growth while maintaining high proficiency rates (94% in ELA, 89% in math, and 86% in science).

SGP data for individual students has been released to schools but not to parents. Parent reports will include SGP data starting with the spring 2010 administration.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Bulldog Challenge

On November 14, 2009, two teams of four students went to Bryant University in Smithfield, RI for the day to compete in the Bull Dog Challenge. This business education event, hosted by Bryant University, gives students interested in business the opportunity to compete against other high schools. There were ten high school teams from MA, RI and CT in the competition. The event started at 8:30 am with a briefing from one of the professors at Bryant. Teams were then taken into rooms where they were presented with the Harvard Review case study. Students and their Bryant University student adviser (the adviser and MHS business teacher Judy Foley were only there to facilitate) worked through a grueling analysis of the case for four hours. During this time, students had to develop a strategy and a PowerPoint of their strategic recommendation of what the company should do. Students then had to present their recommendations to Bryant professors and alumni.

One of our teams won the event. This team consisted of four juniors from Mansfield High School, pictured above (l to r), Amanda Eardley, Josh Marohn, Megan Cavanaugh and James Parsons. This was an amazing experience for these fine students, as they had the opportunity to visit the campus, meet professors, work with Bryant University students and faculty. It was an outstanding event for all students who participated. Thanks to Mrs. Foley and congratulations to these students for their great work!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Annual Leaf Raking Project

Once again, many Mansfield students stepped up and gave back to the community by participating in the annual Leaf Raking Project this past Veteran's Day, 11/11. Over 225 students from MHS and QMS cleaned the yards of 31 households, mostly those of elderly residents. Many thanks to the Mansfield Police and the Mansfield Council on Aging who partnered with us to make this worthwhile event once be successful. Also, thank you to local landscapers Kevin Guerrini, Sean Flynn, Shawn McGuire, Herb Prew, Pete Presentato, and Aaron Fine for assisting with the cleanup and leaf disposal. A special thanks to MHS Nurse Extraordinaire Donna Harrington for organizing this day once again... Great job, Donna!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shift Happens

The above video, entitled "Shift Happens," presents some fascinating and thought-provoking statistics on how the world is ever-changing and what the implications are for our students that will soon be entering the workplace. This video has been making the rounds since 2006 and is available in many different versions on YouTube.

I have used this video in staff meetings to get teachers thinking about a hot topic in education right now: 21st century skills. What exactly is meant by "21st century skills"? These are skills that most employers define as essential for workers to be successful- for today's jobs and those that have yet to exist. These skills have been detailed in recent years in works such as Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. These skills include: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and leadership, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, technological literacy, effective written and oral communication, the ability to access and analyze information, and curiosity and imagination. Many of these skills are clearly not new, as he have been talking about infusing more critical thinking into the curriculum for decades. However, much of it is new as far as the inclusion of skills such as collaboration, adaptability, and entrepreneaurialism into schooling. The implications of 21st century skills for school curriculum, instruction, and assessment are broad-reaching. How exactly does a school integrate these skills into the curriculum of all content areas? And how exactly does a school assess how well students have mastered these skills? We have begun that conversation at MHS.

The national conversation is being supported by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition of 13 states (Massachusetts being one of them), the US Department of Education, the National Education Association, and several large tech-based corporations, including Dell, Cisco Systems, Apple, and AOL Time Warner. The organization's mission is to serve as the catalyst to position 21st century skills in K-12 education nationally be fostering more partnerships between schools, business, community, and government.

I'll have more postings on this important topic soon!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SAT Scores for the Class of '09

The College Board recently released the results of the SAT Reasoning Test for the Class of 2009.  Below, in table form are the mean values of this year's results for MHS, the state, and nationally.  For the sake of comparison, I have also added last year's results:

As the results show, the gains from 2008 to 2009 are tremendous, so much that the combined score of 1662 places Mansfield High School fifth in all public high schools south of Boston.  These mean values represent the results of 251 students, which is 74% of all graduates. This is truly a credit to our most recent grads and the outstanding teachers who prepared them.  Kudos!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bonjour amis!

Late Thursday afternoon 12 students from Les Eleves du Lycee St. Louis (loose translation: St. Louis High School) in the village of Chateaulin, France arrived at MHS. As part of the annual exchange program, 12 French students come and stay with 12 of our students who take upper level French for approximately 10 days. Our 12 students had spent time with the same students last April when they traveled to France. Additionally, they have been accompanied by two of their teachers, who in turn are staying with two of MHS' French teachers, Leslie Gildersleeve and Gerard Benoit. Also accompanying the French students is their principal, Olivier Queneuder (pictured above). I have had the pleasure of hosting Olivier for the past couple of days.

Olivier's school- and world- are very different than mine. First, St. Louis is a Catholic high school with a student enrollment of approximately 500 students, ages varying from 12 to 24. Rather than sorting students by the traditional grades, French students are grouped by academic and developmental ability. The students' parents pay the school 40 euros per month in tuition (which is equivalent to $60), however a sizable portion of the total tuition is subsidized by the French government as a voucher system exists. The school day is longer than the American one, as Olivier's students go to school from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, with no after school sports or extracurricular activities as part of the school's offerings. Classes meet for roughly an hour, and students have lunch for 90 minutes! From Olivier's descriptions, the pace of the school day sounds markedly slower, with a "laid back" feel. Unlike a Bishop Feehan or a Xavarian Brothers High School, St. Louis students do not wear uniforms, however, the typical class size is typically over 30.

Interestingly enough, the teachers' work week is only 18 hours long, as they must be present at the school only for the time they are teaching students. They also have 16 weeks of vacation annually. According to Olivier, most are paid a salary of 24,000 euros ($36,000) annually.

This is Olivier's first time in America, and he has shared with me that some of his preconceived notions about America (e.g., big cars, big houses) have lived up and some have not (e.g., our classrooms looking like those depicted in the film, "Dangerous Minds"). On Friday, he and his teachers had the opportunity to sit in a multitude of classes, including AP Calculus, Visual Basic, Chorus, Studio Art, English 11, and of course, French 2. At the end of the day when I asked Olivier what he thought, he described MHS students as "serious." When I pressed him on what exactly he meant by "serious," he stated how impressed he was by the behavior of our kids and how they seemed so committed to academic success. He commented on our teachers' excellent classroom management and how the students responded so positively by focusing on their own learning. Good feedback!!

Merci to Madame Gildersleeve and Monsieur Benoit for all of their hard work in providing this great cultural and learning experience for our students! So far it has been a great learning for me as well!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some Thoughts on Foxborough's New Policy

Last week there were reports throughout the press that a new policy was being implemented at Foxborough High School, one where breathalyzers would now be used during the school day if a student was suspected to be under the influence. The new policy was publicized by FHS Principal Jeff Theodoss and Foxborough Police Chief Edward O'Leary as part of a larger school improvement safety plan. Furthermore, the plan is slated to be endorsed by the Foxborough School Committee on October 19. The controversy here for some is that school administrators will potentially be using the breathalyzers in the school setting, not just before school social functions such as the prom or the Homecoming Dance. An ACLU lawyer has termed this new policy as a "terrible idea" and some parents may agree.

I see this news item as much ado about nothing. Foxborough High School, like several neighboring communities (including us at Mansfield HS), has recently been using breathalyzers at social functions as a deterrent to underage drinking. What is the difference if they are now using it as an additional tool to determine if a student is breaking the law? Yes, it is true that 95% of the time a trained administator can tell if a student has been using alcohol by physical signs (i.e., smell of breath, dilated pupils, behavior, increased blood pressure, etc.) and usually will work with the school nurse to ascertain this information. But why not use good technology if you have it at your disposal?

When I first became a principal nine years ago I was working in Rhode Island for a superintendent who was the first to bring breathalyzers to his former school district, Swansea. This occurred in the late 1990's, and I believe that Swansea was one of the first districts in eastern Massachusetts to implement their use. When the superintendent pitched the idea to me, and then the school committee, there was mostly a negative reaction. I was uncomfortable with the idea as I believed that their use would send a bad message: that we did not trust the majority of kids and thus we would have to breathalyze them all. Many on the school committee felt the same, and thus the idea did not gain support and went nowhere.

I chalk up my old feelings as mere inexperience as my viewpoint today is now the antithesis of what it was in 2000. Why? For the simple reason that in that time span, I have been to the wakes and funerals of four children that were students in my schools. All four died due to poor decisions they made regarding drugs or alcohol. I have seen first hand the pain and devastation such a death brings to a family, friends, and an entire community. It is always unnatural for a parent to bury a child, but this type of death is the cruelest because it is always preventable. We must never forget that, as it seems far too often that our collective memory is short after going through a tragic death. Why then, do so many teens revert back to destructive behaviors even after a loss of a friend or classmate?

So now I don't mind if any student feels that I don't trust him/her by using a breathalyzer. If my "lack of trust" makes the difference in just one life, just by making that decision not to drink... it's worth it. Nonetheless, the breathalyzer is only one very small weapon in the arsenal. The biggest- and best- is open and honest communication between kids and their parents. That is the heart of the matter, and will be the emphasis of the Tri-Town Drug & Alcohol Awareness Partnership group as it commences its work. As State Representative Betty Poirier said last Thursday night at "Intervention Town Hall Meeting" as she opened the program, "Our long term goal is to ensure that all of our parents here tonight become grandparents.... It's the most beautiful and wonderful thing!" Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cameron Clapp Visits MHS

Today an extraordinary young man by the name of Cameron Clapp visited MHS and presented his life story to our students. As the picture shows, Cameron is a triple amputee. A 23-year-old native of California, his life was forever changed in September 2001 when he was struck by a train not too far from his home. Integral to this story is the fact that he was intoxicated when it happened, so much to the degree that he was barely coherent to his surroundings when it happened.

Cameron has made much of his life since the tragic event of eight years ago. To say that he has come back with many normal functions would be an understatement. In fact, he has been recognized as an outstanding track and field athlete as he has competed in the annual Endeavor Games as well as several triathalons. He is also an aspiring actor, as he has recently landed roles in the 2008 feature film, Stop Loss, and the NBC TV series, My Name is Earl.

As a motivational speaker, Cameron is frank in talking about the bad decisions he made as a 15-year old that led to his present disability. He pointed out how getting involved with substances to "improve" his social life in actuality stopped him from pursuing his passions: running, surfing, extreme sports, etc. In quite a bit of detail and aided by an outstanding multimedia presentation, he documented for all of us his road to recovery and his raw determination to walk, and yes, even run again. Throughout the presentation, he interwove recurring themes for our students: establish a vision of what you want, set goals to reach that vision, work hard, persevere, battle through adversity, and always pursue your passions. He underscored the fact that drugs and alcohol will always subvert you from achieving your goals and true passions in life. He reiterated several times through the presentation what I believe was his theme: It's not about what happens to you in life..... it's about what you do with it.
Cameron's message today was overwhelmingly positive and it really resonated with our students. In fact, he signed autographs and connected with kids in the cafeteria during lunch after the assemblies. I strongly believe that we need to keep his message- about positive decision-making- consistently in the forefront of our kids' minds.
For more information about Cameron, here is a link to his website. He will also be part of the panel that will present during the Intevention Town Hall Meeting this coming Thursday night at Showcase Live at Patriot Place at 6:00 pm (see below). I urge all of you to come to this meeting to see this thoughtful young man. Thanks, Cameron!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Food for Thought?

According to today's Boston Globe, less than 10% of American high school students get a sufficient amount of fruit and vegetables in their daily diet.  This finding was based upon study conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in 2007 where approximately 100,000 high school students across the nation were surveyed.  The study found that only 13% of students get the recommended three servings of vegetables and only 32% get the recommended two servings of fruit.  Less than one out of ten get enough of both combined.

It is almost as bad for the adult population, where the CDC found that only 27% got the recommended allowance of vegetables and 33% for fruit.

In an era where 1 out of 5 people in the Commonwealth are obese and over 17% of children aged 12 to 19 are obese (defined as having a BMI or body mass index over 30), I wonder if we're doing enough in our schools.  Are we serving enough whole, non-processed foods in our cafeterias?  Do we need to do more with our health/wellness curriculums to promote better eating.... even if that message isn't being lived in the home?

Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking on Oct. 8

The Tri-Town Drug and Alcohol Awareness Partnership (a group of community-based and school leaders from Foxboro, Mansfield, and Norton) is partnering with the A & E Network and the Comcast Organization to present a screening of the groundbreaking, Emmy-nominated series Intervention which airs on A & E. Following the screening, a live town-hall meeting will take place featuring interventionist Jeff VanVonderen. Mr. VanVonderen is a nationally renowned speaker with experience working with families in crisis related to drugs and alcohol. This town hall meeting will be taped for a later airing on A & E.

The event will be held on Thursday, October 8 at the Showcase Live at Patriot Place in Foxborough. A reception starts at 6:00 pm with the program running from 7:00-8:30 pm.

This very important event is the start of a series of events aimed at giving families public support on the issue of drug and alcohol awareness and helping our kids make good, safe decisions, particularly in light of recent drug and alcohol-related tragedies in our communities. The Tri-Town Partnership will continue to provide information that encourages communication between teens and their parents.

For more information on this event, here is a link to the Sun Chronicle's article from Monday.

This event is open to all students, parents, and community members. If interested in attending, please RSVP to or call (508) 858-5319

Monday, September 28, 2009

The All-Sports Booster Club Needs YOU!!

I recently read a report in the Boston Globe that more and more communities south of Boston have implemented user fees for high school student athletes. In the Hockomock League alone, six of the nine schools have gone the route of “pay to play,” with the median fee being $225 per sport. Numerous studies and both the state and national level show that the initiation of such fees results in a deleterious effect on student participation rates. Additionally, Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies reports that the percentages of Massachusetts high school students aged 16 to 19 years old employed in a part-time job dropped from 45% in 2000 to 30% in 2009, most likely a reflection of the deterioration of the economy. As employment opportunities for students continue to decline, it is imperative to expand access to athletic and after school programs to replace the social and behavioral gains when students have jobs.

So what’s my point? It’s simple. I feel blessed to be the principal of a high school where 68% of our students participate in at least one sport. If you add extra- and co-curricular activities to the mix, the rate climbs to 91%. A sizable majority of our students are clearly benefiting from lessons they are learning outside of the classroom, delivered by dedicated coaches and advisors. These real-life lessons teach our kids characteristics such as the value of hard work, commitment, and perseverance, which are the bedrock of creating a responsible citizenry.

Last spring the Mansfield School Committee was faced with an extremely challenging budget, one where millions of dollars of cuts needed to be executed. Once again, the issue of sports user fees was proposed, and the committee carefully and thoughtfully deliberated the topic. Despite the financial pressure, the committee decided not to implement user fees, citing that MHS’ high participation rate would decrease. Continued equity and access to our fine athletic and co-curricular programs was their chief concern.

Thus, the vital support of parent and community organizations such as the All-Sports Boosters Club are critical now more than ever. Through the fundraising efforts of this group, our students athletes are able to get the “extras,” i.e., equipment, supplies, uniforms, etc., that help in giving them a competitive advantage. Additionally, the group gives generous scholarships to deserving seniors each spring. Parents in the club also give countless hours of their time- from organizing and printing the seasonal sports program books to working the gymnasium concessions- for the good of the all of the programs. This Boosters Club has been run by a small but passionate and dedicated group of parents; however, many of them are no longer as their children have graduated. If you have not done so yet, I urge you to join the All Sports Booster Club. Please give of your time and resources; we need you! For more information, please contact Athletic Director Joe Russo at (508) 261-7540, X-3113 or via e-mail at

Go Hornets!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Welcome to "Principally Speaking"!

Hi Everyone-

This year I thought I would try something new and start a blog for MHS. While blogging certainly is not new, it is fairly novel among school principals. I am excited about the possibilities it may hold!

Why a principal's blog? It will serve many purposes, including:

1. To post news, notes, events about MHS in a quick and efficient way (and save a tree or two, to boot!).
2. To share some thoughts on issues/topics that are germane to education not only here at Mansfield High School, but also within our community, and at the state and national level; and,
3. To solicit your ideas and feedback. Since the very nature of blogs is to be interactive, you may subscribe to this blog by clicking here, and then post your own thoughts.

I will be posting new material on at least a weekly basis, so please visit frequently!