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!